“Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.” – Jane Austen (1775 – 1817), Northanger Abbey

Matt sat on the sand watching the sun set. The mountains catching its fading glows and reflecting the rays into the clouds above. The sky was a menagerie of color, from red and orange to yellow and even purple. Sunsets were the one thing in Matt’s life that was constant. Sunsets…and science.

Looking down at his watch he saw the time. His face looked downtrodden. A lunch date he had promised to his friends. It was Veronica’s birthday. She and Robert were going to be there. So were his other friends, from high school. A nice birthday dinner. A desperate feeling flooded through Matt as he got up. A desire to escape, to just not go. Sighing heavily he dusted the sand off his bottom and headed for his car.

As he drove down the freeway, the wind cut through his despair. The music cut through anguish like a hot knife through butter. In the car he was free, even if for such a short time, free of life. He chided himself, forgetting to get coffee for his friend and lab assistant Rick Smythe. Matt smiled thinking what Rick would be like without his caffeine, a regular monster in the morning.

Pulling up to the coffee shop he noticed it buzzing with the usual teenagers. Teens who had no where to go and socialized with each other. Smiling, realizing he was maybe two to three years older than them at most he crossed the road to enter the shop. Sitting outside was Lisa. Matt froze. He turned around quickly when he heard her say his name. Damn, he thought. He pretended to be confused, looking around but not at her. Finally he had no choice but to acknowledge where she was.

Slowly walking to her he felt a sort of emptiness. Her smile brought nothing to him, except a sort of twinge. Matt couldn’t tell what the twinge was. It could have been any kind of emotion but deep down he knew, regret.

“Oh hi Lisa, I didn’t know where the voice was coming from.” Matt said with a smile, trying to hide any of the pain he had felt while walking up.

“Dork,” she said smiling. That was her pet name for him when they went out. A name that had that twinge come back to him, like a nightmare. She signaled for him to sit down. Matt looked around and smiled, sitting down on a cement pillar next to her.

“So, on a hot date?” she asked casually, but her eyes looked deep inside Matt. Searching for an answer. Matt was shaken by the question.

“Um, no. Not really. You know me and women. We just don’t…yeah I’m not with anyone,” Matt looked away. Looking at her had brought back a feeling. He may not have loved her as much as Veronica, but he definitely felt something for her. A connection he couldn’t place. Looking back up at her he added, “How about you?”

“Oh not right now. Robert and I are back together,” Robert, the guy who had dated Lisa, dumped her for Veronica, was dumped by Veronica and went back to Lisa. Some friend.

“Well, that’s good. I guess it means you two are meant to be.” Matt said, his voice shaking. He breathed deep hoping, praying to keep under control for the rest of the conversation.

“Yeah, I am tired of being rejected,” she said. Her eyes again looking into me, her blond hair pushed aside.

“Is that what you think I did? Rejected you?” Matt could hardly believe it. He had broke it off after she said she still loved Robert.

“Well, yeah, your the one who broke it off,” she said matter of factly.

“Wait…you say you still love Robert…Robert tells me three days before I broke up with you that we were broken up…and I am the one who broke it off? Don’t you think I felt rejected long before you did?” Matt felt his heart pounding heavily on his chest. The sheer idiocy of the conversation was getting to him.

“Look Matt, I cared for you, but I am always going to be in love with Robert. Just like you will always be in love with Veronica,” she said leaning down to whisper the last sentence to me.

“I…hope it works out for the both of you. I…we did the right thing breaking up. Good-bye Lisa.” Matt got up as Lisa hugged him. He didn’t respond back. His face was blank but his heart was pounding. He had to get out of there…damn the coffee.

Luckily the restaurant was within walking distance. The cool night air would alleviate his temperament. Walking fast he entered the restaurant. Telling the waitress the table name he found he was the first one there…no surprise Matt thought as he was seated. Matt ordered a water and looked out the nearby window. ‘Where had life passed him by?’ he thought to himself.

“Hey Matt!” Veronica shouted breaking Matt from his reverie. She was wearing a black lace dress. Her hair was down and she was wearing silver earrings. The dress had small flowers dotted on it as decoration. Smiling eh got up and hugged her. His heart soared for a second…and when the hug broke plummeted back down to reality.

“Happy Birthday Veronica,” he said smiling at her warmly. Though she had said she didn’t like him any more then as a friend he couldn’t help but smile at her. He once told his friend, Chad, that looking at Veronica was like falling in love every time you saw her. Sitting back down he almost got lost in the hazel whirlpools she called eyes.

“How was your day Matt?” Veronica asked looking at the menu. Matt watched her thumb through it and it finally registered that she asked him a question.

“Fine, I ran into Lisa,” he said trying hard to smile, while his body shook with nervousness. Not the nervous feeling from taking a test, the nervous feeling when talking about an ex.

“Really? How did that go?” she asked putting down the menu and looking at him concerned.

“Better then I thought, I didn’t club her with the nearest rock,” Matt said with a grin, reciprocated when Veronica grinned back, “She thinks I rejected her, I think otherwise. Oh and she is back with Robert.” Matt said looking for a reaction to his latest news. Veronica shook her head.

“Robert is the kind of guy I wished I hadn’t gone out with, and I rather just forget the whole thing and just be friends. He is too…two-faced for me. Saying one thing and meaning another.” Veronica went back to her menu.

“Being two-faced isn’t bad, it might be he actually doesn’t know what he wants or how to face what he wants.” Matt said while Veronica looked up with a sly grin.

“Thank you Dr. but I came here to enjoy my birthday dinner, not have you psychoanalyze my ex-boyfriend.”

“I thought you said you didn’t consider…” Veronica hushed him and smiled. Matt smiled back and looked to his menu.

Soon the others came. Chad Brock, a friend from high school who worked in home insurance. A great sensitive guy who believed that Matt had no chance with Veronica and said so the first time Matt mentioned it. Matt wondered if he should tell Chad about that. Jason Sweeny, a man Matt knew since junior high. A mathematical genius. Matt often joked with Jason about who had the faster thought process. The two sat down at the table as a circle of four friends. Matt looked at them and wondered what had changed so much since high school. For one, Veronica wasn’t in the group…a man named Terry Bigham was. He was in the navy now though studying to be a physician and reaffirming his faith. Now, it seemed each had drifted apart…or, Matt thought, only he had drifted apart.

As the other two ordered Veronica struck up a conversation with Chad about his ex-girlfriend. The parental guardians didn’t approve of Chad so there was a forced breakup. Jason got into the conversation wondering exactly why the girl went out with Chad in the first place. Matt watched them laughing with each other. He remembered the original four, laughing at nothing for hours. Going to Terry’s house for a sleep over but never sleeping. Then when his girlfriend moved to San Diego, Matt’s life changed.

Withdrawing while projecting an image of superiority. A defense where he seemed more then he was. Always hanging with the friends, which amounted to him sitting on the couch bored as they played. Matt now watched as the friends laughed and he realized he was not only an outsider since he woke up months ago, he hadn’t been himself for years.

“So Matt, how is work?” Chad asked while munching on a salad noisily. Veronica slapped him on the arm and Jason listened.

“Well, with the recent findings in the Human Genome Project, I concocted a hypothesis that basically says I know how to cure humanity of their ‘darker half.’ By simply detecting it, tracking it and finally obliterating it with a focused beam of radiation without damaging healthy tissue,” Matt said, then he saw Chad with his eyes half closed, Jason looking at the television and Veronica trying to follow along. Matt simply shook his head and dove into his hamburger.

After saying goodnight to Chad and Jason, Matt and Veronica went walking towards his car. The cool air felt good on his face while having Veronica by his side made his feet lighter.

“Matt, why are you so distant?” Veronica asked, causing Matt to turn around.

“What?” Matt asked, wondering what had brought out the question.

“Tonight, everyone was talking and laughing and sharing, except you. You keep everything inside. Even when I asked about your day you weren’t even serious. Hell you seem more concerned about me and Robert then with you and Lisa.” Veronica simply looked at Matt questioning him with her eyes.

“Its not being distant. It’s wondering if…if what I have to say matters. You all have lives and relationships. Me…I never…I’ve never gotten over how she left to San Diego and…other things.” Matt looked over at Veronica, his eyes watering slightly. A lump forming at the center of his chest.

“What other things?” Veronica asked coming closer to him. Matt looked at her and remembered why he had broken the friendship off months ago. he never saw he as a friend, always more…and all she would ever see him as was a friend.

“Nothing Veronica, it’s just stupid self-pitying stuff.” Matt said quickly turning.

“Fine, whatever. Have a good night Matt.” Veronica turned, disgusted with the man, boy who couldn’t tell her what he felt.

“Veronica, do you know what Chad told me when I said I had fallen in love with you?” Matt asked. Veronica turned quickly.

“What did he say?”

“That as a friend he felt it his responsibility to set me straight. That I didn’t have a chance with you and to get over you now while I still could. That’s what my best friend said. Then your friend, his girlfriend, said the same words almost verbatim to me.” Matt’s voice choked the last part. He felt something building, something that he wanted to say but didn’t. Veronica looked at him, worried.

“They didn’t have a right to say that. You and I, we just are not right for each other.” Veronica said simply, but with a friendly tone.

“Yet for Robert you gave him a chance…never-mind Veronica. Goodnight.” Matt swallowed whatever wanted to come out. Any sadness or frustration was buried by that swallow. Veronica looked on and simply reiterated her goodnight to him. As Matt went to his car, he watched as Veronica drove away.

*BAM* he slammed his hand on the car frame. An anger built up inside him. Frustration building, his heart pounding and his temples thumping in unison. Slowly he breathed, calming himself down. Slowily he got in the car. His body trying to slow down, but his mind wouldn’t. Suddnely in a fit of anger, frusteration he needed to release he screamed, echoing throughout the car. The scream drained him,but releived nothing as the anger simmered down in his chest again.

“Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to.” – Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger, 1985

The Monster Within Us All – Chapter 1

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