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Who Are You When I'm Not Looking?
“My oh my, you're so good-looking, hold yourself together like a pair of bookends, but I've not tasted all your cooking. Who are you when I'm not looking?”
-Who Are You When I’m Not Looking, Blake Shelton
The radio began to play as the morning once again made its appearance. I, however, wasn’t exactly thrilled. Mornings were usually my favorite time of day; smelling the coffee brewing along with the fresh Nashville air from the window Andrea opened every morning.
Andrea. She was my roommate and girlfriend, that is, until I came home from work to find her crying with her bags at the door. She said that she had some things to deal with and decided to stay with her parents for a while; she thought it would be good for her. Of course, like the gentleman I am, I offered to help her through this, but she immediately refused. Without a goodbye, she grabbed her bags and left. At first, I tried calling her multiple times within the first hour, trying to talk to her, but she never answered her phone. Slowly, my calls dwindled down to once a day to almost now. It had been almost two weeks since she left. I decided maybe she needed some space; everyone does at one time or another. But I was worried.
I looked over at my alarm clock. 7:00 a.m.. It didn’t matter if it was a weekday or weekend (today was Saturday), I always woke up at 7:00 while Andrea used to get up at 7:30, so I would try to get up early enough to start the coffee and breakfast. Before I graduated high school, Mama taught me how to cook, saying it would help find me a girl. I love Andrea, but she couldn’t cook if her life depended on it. She tried, but it was either too salty or burnt, and we would end up laughing about it over take out. I finally decided to get out of bed and started for the bathroom.
The water pounded on my back, easing away the stiffness from last night’s lack of sleep. I had recently begun to realize how much I really missed Andrea. To be exact, the little things. Andrea and I had lived together for almost a year, so her presence was all over the apartment. We had decided to move in together after we graduated and started dating after seeing a two bedroom apartment for sale. Her room, of course, was her center, but she spread out into the living area and the bathroom. The couch was covered in throw pillows and blankets. Her shoes were scattered about the room, while mine were always by the door. Mama had drove it into my head when I was younger. We also had to share a bathroom, so my blue toothbrush was next her fancy electric toothbrush; my shampoo was next to hers in the shower. The bathtub also was lined with her favorite bubble bath and her razor. It wasn’t uncommon that I would come home after work and find the door closed with the slight scent of her rose scented bubble bath. She hadn’t taken any of her items with her besides her clothes, so she couldn’t be gone. Could she?
Still, I missed the fresh wave of her perfume in the morning as I went in the bathroom to brush my teeth. She would often spray the lightly scented perfume after brushing her teeth, leaving me to walk into the light mist after she was done. The boys at the shop would make fun of me since some of the perfume usually stuck to my shirt, but it didn’t bother me. I turned off the water and grabbed a towel. Usually, I was stuck with ratty towels as Andrea took the good fluffy towels, for I had told her she could when she first moved in.
After getting dressed, I went to the kitchen and began to make the coffee. Dark roast. Papa said a man should drink dark coffee-the darker the better. No creamer or sugar. Of course, there was always the fancy coffee creamers in the fridge for Andrea. She wasn’t prissy by any means, but she wasn’t raised the way I was. I was brought up on a farm; hard work, early mornings and late nights made a man. Mama taught me manners and how to act like a gentleman while Papa showed me how to work and make a living. Continuing what I learned, I got a job at a garage, fixing trucks while the old radio in the corner of the shop always played the same country station. Andrea, however, was from Indiana and had moved to Nashville when I was in high school. By some miracle, she was enrolled into the same high school as I was and we had the same math class. She had told me her father worked for some company and had to move here. She too worked hard, but her work consisted of good grades and going to college. Me? All I wanted was my high school degree and a decent job that paid decent money. She wanted to be a nurse, so she went to college during the day while I was at the shop.
The coffee pot gurgled; it was done. I grabbed a mug and poured myself a cup. I went over to the window that was almost always open in the morning. I didn’t understand why she left, yet again, she was never good about opening up. Occasionally, I would find her on the couch with a pint of pecan praline ice cream almost in tears.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“Yeah. It was just long day. Don’t worry about me.”
“Andrea, are you sure? You know I’m always open to talk.”
“Brandon, I’m okay. Now, you go change. You smell like car and we are supposed to go to the Grand Ole Opry special tonight.”
I noticed before she left, those nights seemed to become more common. She would either be on the couch with a pillow in her arms or be in her room and only come out for dinner.
Something wasn’t right. I wasn’t the smartest man in the world, but I knew when something was wrong. I grabbed my phone and began to dial a number. Paula was a good friend of Andrea’s, but I knew her since Kindergarten. We never dated, but we were always good friends. I let the phone ring.
“Hello?” Paula answered.
“Hey, I gotta question for you.”
“Do you know what’s wrong with Andrea?”
“Why? Did you break up with her or something? I swear Brandon, if you did something…”
“No, Paula. I didn’t do anythin’. She just decided two weeks ago to…leave.”
“Two weeks! What have you been doing? Sitting on your butt doing nothing?”
“No; I wanted to give her space. You know how she is.”
“Still...that’s a long time.”
I sighed. “I tried calling her…”
“That’s not an excuse. You could’ve called me or her Mama earlier.”
I felt a tiny bit of anger bubble. “Perhaps I was tryin’ to figure what the heck had happened myself! Now, please. Tell me what’s wrong with her. I’ve good a guess you know.”
She went quiet.
“Dang it, Paula! If somethin’s wrong, tell me. I’ve been worried sick. Somethin’s not right.”
I heard her let out a sigh. “Brandon, she believes she’s not good enough for you.”
“I don’t know. That’s all she told me. You know she was always the emotional type.”
“Yeah, I do. My question is should I go see her. She said she went to her Mama’s place.”
“As a girl, I wouldn’t. If she doesn’t want to see you, she doesn’t want to see you. As a friend; however, I would. Let her know that you care. Brandon, you care about her too much. Don’t let her go.”
I nodded. “Alright. I’m sure I’ll talk to you later.”
“Alright. Let me know what happens, please? Bye.”
“Bye.” I hung up. I went back the kitchen and placed my cup in the sink. Since it was a Saturday, I didn’t have work due to my boss believing that everyone deserved some family time. Grabbing my keys off the counter, I headed toward the door; there was no time like the present.
I pulled up to her parent’s place; it was in a nicer neighborhood than our apartment slightly out in the country. In the front seat of my truck, a plastic bag sat filled with her favorites: peanut butter cups and a bottle of sweet tea. As I opened the door, I grabbed the bag of treats. Bag in hand and heart full of hope, I walked up the large house and knocked on the door. Andrea’s mama answered.
“Hello, Ma’am. Is Andrea here?”
She smiled. “Brandon, it’s so good to see you.” She gave me a hug. “She’s upstairs in her old room.” She whispered in my ear.
“I told, you can call me Debby.”
I shrugged. “No can do, Ma’am.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know. Too much of gentleman.”
I gave her a smirk. “Thank you.”
“Now, you get up there,” She shooed.
I walked up the staircase toward Andrea’s room. Hers was the one far left of the hallway. I knocked on her door.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“Andrea?” I asked as I opened her door.
“Brandon?” She looked up from her desk; she was working on a college assignment.
I shrugged. “I brought you peanut butter cups and sweet tea? Can I come in?”
She sighed. “Yeah, I suppose.”
She was dressed in a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt. She did never wear fancy clothes, but she wasn’t herself. Her light hazelnut hair was usually down with a slight curl at the end touching her back, but today it was up in a ponytail. She also didn’t have her favorite fuzzy socks on. I’ve caught her numerous times dancing in the kitchen, sliding across the wood to the music on the radio.
“Andrea…” I sat on her bed, “Please tell me what’s wrong.”
She sat beside me. “How do you like me?” She asked.
“How do you like me, Brandon? I’m not good at anything.”
I pulled her close. “Andrea, you are good at a lot of things. You’re smart, kind, and have the biggest heart I’ve ever seen.”
“That’s a lie.”
I cocked my head. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that I’m not smart, I’m not the kindest person the world, and I don’t have a big heart. I left you, didn’t I?”
“But I’m nothing Brandon. My professors must think I’m stupid, and I hurt you,” she hid her face in her hands.
“Andrea…what’s wrong?” I didn’t understand; she was never this way. She was always so confident in herself and always had a smile on her face.
“Brandon, how long have we lived together?” she finally asked not truly answering my question.
“About a year…why?”
“Do you still want me?”
I sighed. “Of course I do. I want everythin’ about you. I want to know what’s troublin’ you. I want to know your insecurities. Everythin’. It was my fault that I didn’t notice things earlier. I should have known.”
She gave me a soft smile. “Brandon, it’s not your fault. You are too much of gentleman. You’ve never made fun of me, such as my bubble baths in the middle of the day or my ice cream eating on the couch. You’ve never pressured me into anything like sex.”
I chuckled. “Mama told me it wasn’t good form to do so until I was married.”
She playfully shoved me. “See? Even Father was shocked that you even ask to kiss me.”
I shrugged. “Again, just bein’ a gentleman.”
She smiled. “My point is that you have NEVER done anything to hurt me. Sure, you sometimes go get a beer with the guys, but you never come home drunk and always told me when you would be home. And we’re not even married. Which is why I feel like a worthless piece of crap compared to you.”
“That doesn’t mean anythin’. Andrea, you do so much good though. Your smile makes the toughest days the easiest. I love it when you fall asleep on my lap when we’re watchin’ TV due to the stress of the day. You do work hard; I’ll see you up at midnight sometimes when I can’t sleep workin’ on your assignments. I swear, I’ve heard more cuss words coming out of your mouth when you’re writing those anatomy papers for your professor than the Old Man at the shop. Just so you can help people. And you’re tellin’ me that you aren’t good?”
She gave me a soft smile. “I guess I’m saying that I don’t deserve you. You could have chosen any girl, but you picked the weird girl in the Junior class from Indiana four years ago. Not many people hold on that long.”
I sighed. “Well, I guess it’s also fair to say that I don’t deserve you either.”
Her eyes widened. “That’s not true…oh…”
I smiled. “Andrea…it goes both ways.”
She wrapped her arms around me. “I don’t want you to leave me.”
I held her close to my chest. “I’m not goin’ to. Besides, I think your mama would have my hide if I did.”
She chuckled. “So would Dad. He likes you too much.”
Smiling, I held her close. “Andrea, I just want to you to come home.”
She looked at me. “What about my…quirks?”
“Andrea…I want to know everythin’. Please? I even cleaned out the back of the truck for your stuff.”
She nodded. “Mom!” She yelled.
Her mama came running up the stairs. “Already have your suitcase!” She was smiling.
Andrea shook her head. “I didn’t know you wanted me out of the house…”
“It’s not that. Honey, you’re not the same. I’m asking you to allow Brandon to help you. He’s given you your space for two weeks; don’t you owe him an explanation?” She said, handing her the suitcase.
I grabbed it. “Here, I’ve got it, ma’am.”
Andrea gave her a small smile and nodded. “Thank you, Mom.”
“Don’t thank me.”
Andrea looked at me and gave me kiss on the cheek. “Let’s go home. Maybe you can help with homework? My professors decided that they should give homework at the time. The one’s I need help with is the machinery…”
I nodded. “Anythin’ for you, Andrea.”
I packed the stuff into the truck as she hugged her mama goodbye. “Now, I still expect to see you two tomorrow after church. I bought an extra-large roast.”
“Of course, Ma’am. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” I said.
Debby whispered something in Andrea’s ear, but I couldn’t quite hear what she said.
I smiled. “Ready?” I asked her.
“Let’s do this.”
I turned on the radio as we pulled out the driveway.
“Who are you when I'm not around? When the door is locked and the shades are down?
Do you listen to your music quietly? And when it feels just right, are you thinkin' of me?”
I want to know who she is. I want to know who she is when I’m not looking.