An Affair of the Mind/Everything Happens in the Bathroom Mash Up – An Excerpt

“There’s absolutely nothing nutritious on this menu,” Justin complained with a disappointed grunt, placing the menu on the table in frustration.

“You mention that every time we come here,” I chuckled while perusing the menu.

“The sole reason we used to frequent this place, Ms. Mathews, was because it was the only restaurant open after midnight,” he sighed, closing the menu and rolling his eyes. “I’ll go for a salad, although even those aren’t particularly healthy.”

“Yeah, and Denny’s is still the only spot open after midnight. So, not much has changed in twenty years, has it?” I responded.

“I honestly never imagined we’d still be here after twenty years— you and me. To be completely honest, we probably shouldn’t have been the ones to remain friends,” he remarked as the waitress arrived to take our orders.

“I always thought Amber and I would outlast us, but life has a funny way of unfolding,” I said, gazing affectionately into his deep brown eyes.

“Have you stopped blaming yourself for what happened with Amber?” he inquired. “You know it’s not your fault, right?”

“I should have been there. I should have stopped her,” I asserted.

“I could say the same thing about you and Kristopher. But would it have made a difference if I had thrown you in the back of my car that night and driven off? You would have just resented me more and gone right back into his arms. So, no, Ann. Amber is not your fault. She made her choices and has to live with them. Besides, she got two adorable kids out of it. I’m sure in her mind, it was worth every penny.”

Justin was right. I could persist in blaming myself for what transpired with Amber, but ultimately, there was nothing I could do to change it.  I’m sure many people question why, two decades later, I’m still sharing dinner with the Justin Lenox of Lakeworth. This is the same individual whom many hold responsible for my two-week stint in juvenile hall during my teenage years, the one who subjected me to verbal and physical abuse on multiple occasions, and the one I engaged in lies, schemes, and manipulation with for over a decade.  He was right, she made those choices. Just like he was my choice, and I wouldn’t change a thing about what happened if it meant I could still choose him twenty years later.

“So, where are we planning to stay on the strip?” he inquired, pulling out his tablet and launching his Capitol One Rewards app.

“I don’t care. Just choose a place and book those Sphere tickets!” I exclaimed.

“You and that darn Sphere! I personally think it was a waste of money, but whatever. It’s your birthday. If you want to see it, I’m not going to stop you,” he chuckled with an eye roll.

“Are you booking one room or two?” I asked out of curiosity.

“Are you nuts?” he responded, giving me a strange look. “I’m booking two. No way in hell I’m listening to you two all night,” he laughed.

“Well, not like I want to listen to you and Elliot either,” I giggled with an eye roll. As I sat there, watching him book the rooms and tickets, I couldn’t help but reminisce about our younger years. It’s sometimes challenging to look back on who we used to be. We’re no longer those people. While we still scheme and find ourselves in trouble, both of us have changed since high school and even college. Writing about our younger selves is honestly like writing about strangers sometimes.

“Remember the first time you and I went to Vegas?” I asked him.

“Yep, we stayed at the Bellagio,” he smiled.

“Yeah, you bought me the fanciest dress I had ever seen. Then you got yourself the most expensive suit in that tuxedo shop. I still can’t believe our fake IDs worked, but they did. We really had a good time. It’s one of the happier memories I have of us as teenagers,” I said.

“Yeah, 16 and 17-year-olds with fake IDs and wads of cash roaming the Las Vegas Strip is a great memory to have,” he laughed. “I had to splurge a bit. It was a business transaction, but you’re right, it was fun,” he said. “Almost as fun as that time I crashed your and Amber’s Las Vegas trip.”

“Oh my God! I almost forgot about that. That’s right. We were supposed to see Simple Plan in concert. Her mom checked us into the hotel and dropped us off. She wasn’t supposed to do that, so we told everyone all weekend that she was just out gambling,” I laughed. “And then they canceled the show. So, she and I ordered room service all day and roamed the gift shops. Then you came the next day, and that’s when the fun began,” I laughed.

“Of course. Fake IDs and enough cash, and you can have a blast in Vegas no matter your age. At least back then you could. I’m not sure if we would be able to get away with it today, but I suppose with enough money, you can get away with anything,” he said, turning his tablet off. “They’re all booked!” he smiled.

“My favorite trip with you, though, was when you were dating Timothy, and we went to see Good Charlotte in Phoenix,” I sighed as the thought of Timothy Edwards crossed my mind. Timothy was not a topic Justin and I discussed much these days. While he fills the pages of “Affair of the Mind,” his name nowadays just brings sadness. It’s probably why I forgot that he had a small fling with Kristopher before he and I started dating. Timothy was almost a topic as forbidden as that of Baby Lambert. It just held too much pain.

“Yeah, you spent a good majority of the car ride trying to persuade him to have sex with you in the hotel room,” he laughed.

“I didn’t!” I blushed.

“Ann, you seriously spent a year chasing the guy around Walmart, begging him to turn bisexual for you. You were obsessed with him!”

“Okay, fine. That’s why I’ll never get over the fact Kristopher got to be with him, and I didn’t,” I giggled.

“You do realize you are the strangest person on this planet, right?  I mean, you’re jealous because your husband had intimate relations with another man, and you did not? Are you sure you’re okay, Ms. Mathews-Hall? Should we maybe get your brain examined or something?” he laughed. “I like Hall, by the way. I think you should change his name back to Kristopher Hall, not Brown, in your book.”

“I think so too,” I smiled at him as our eyes met.