527. - Lucien
Brie jumps at the opportunity to ask me to explore the premises when we return from chopping wood. He disguises under a want to take pictures for his socials, but halfway down to the fields he has to run back to grab his phone. Then, when we make it to the fence, the phone is entirely forgotten as he kneels down to feed one of the goats grass through the wire fence. His eyes are unfocused, staring at something that's invisible to anyone else.
I should say something. My throat feels dry, my tongue unmoving. I have seen many sides of my best friend, including this one - albeit rarely, but whenever it did show, it was never a lighthearted conversation.
"Brie." I say gently, startling him from his thoughts. With a beckon of my hand he follows me to a wet wooden bench, where we sit down in silence still. When I take a cigarette, I offer him one out of habit. To my surprise he takes it. There's an empty chuckle from him when he notices my shocked expression. Years ago, when we just met, Gabriel used to smoke a pack a day. Since he quit, the amount of times he's smoked can be counted on one hand.
Though not obvious, Brie might even have more problems talking about his emotions than I do. Where I do it because I simply cannot access them properly, he hides them not to be a bother to anyone. I can almost see the battle going on in his mind, trying to convince himself that I won't be mad at him.
Half his cigarette is gone when he finally opens his mouth. "Matthew and I broke up."
I should be more surprised, but his words feel like confirmation rather than shock. Immediately the things that I noticed over the past forty-eight hours make more sense: why they didn't want to drive with the two of them, why they didn't sit together, why Matthew didn't tag along with groceries. "When?"
"Last Saturday. We were out for dinner, and the conversation landed on us, and when we left the restaurant we weren't a couple anymore." His voice is uncharacteristically flat, a sharp contrast to his usual bubbly self. "Fun night."
"Brie, I'm... I'm so sorry." I offer, and he shakes his head.
"It's... Well, it's not okay, but you know. We agreed it was for the best. There isn't a dumper and a dumpee, there's no fighting. We're still friends, 'else we wouldn't have come on this trip." Another hollow chuckle. "But you know."
"Yeah. Still sucks." He stubs out his cigarette, then hands me the butt to store in the package until I can throw it away. "I'm able to handle it mostly, but today's been tough. I think everyone can see it on my face too, though I told Eschieve that the beds just hurt my back and kept me awake. Seems she bought it."
"Does anyone know?" I ask. He shakes his head.
"No, we didn't want it to be the main focus of the trip. But I couldn't be in the same house as you for over a week and not tell you." This time his laugh feels a little more real, which lifts some of the tightness in my chest. "And I'm pretty sure Matthew is about to snap, too."
I light a second cigarette for myself, but he refuses when I offer again. A light drizzle has started to fall, not yet hard enough to entice us to go back. Then again, I wonder if we'd go back even if the heavens unleashed all their power at once. It doesn't feel like my best friend is quite ready to face people yet. Maybe he's trying to force the excuse of a shower. "I'm glad you told me." I say, when another few seconds have passed. The smallest of a smile curls his lips. "I'm serious, Brie. Not to make this all about me, but I'm aware that the last couple of months I haven't been the most... available of friends. I'm glad you trust me with it."
He nods; two heavy moves of his head, while his feet dig into the mud below the bench. He's wearing his Timberlands, which will be ruined after the week here, and a selfish part of me wishes for him to be his regular conceited self and whine about it. To be the old Gabriel. Not because I like that version better, but because I hate seeing him like this.
"I think I kinda knew ever since you and Emma got back together." He mutters, shaking his head slowly. "What you two had... Matthew and I never did. There were so many terms and conditions, from both of us, even if we didn't realise it until after we split."
I snort, getting myself raised eyebrows from him. "Brie, are you seriously comparing yourself to me and Emma? May I remind you that we broke up for eight months? How I don't get to see her for weeks on end? How I forgot her birthday because of how busy I was? We're not perfect." I shake my head. "Even if we were, you can't compare yourself to that. You can't compare yourself to any relationship, because the people in it are not you. What might work for one person, could end in heartbreak for the other. You can't do that to yourself."
To my relief, he laughs softly and rolls his eyes before giving me a heavy dose of side-eye. "When did you get so wise?"
"I spent six weeks meditating and practising mindfullness in South-Africa, so naturally I'm an expert on all things emotions now. Seriously, you've never met anyone who deals with those things so well as I do." The comment does exactly as I'd hoped: the tension breaks, and he shoves my knee with the most real laugh I've heard from him since we got here.
"Sure you do. Thank you for being here for me. I really appreciate it. I hope I didn't -"
"I'm not even allowing you to finish that sentence. You didn't ruin anything."
"Alright, alright." He chuckles, raising his hands in innocence. "Wanna head back in? Before the real rain hits and washes us away?"
He truly seems to be in lighter spirits as we walk back, though I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit worried about him. He tells me that it's okay to tell Emma if she asks about it, and I promise to be discreet about it.
"Hé, en parlant d'Emma ..." He says before we reach the main house. When I turn to face him, he's looking more grim than he did before we even got out in the first place. The fact he's suddenly switched to French, doesn't bode well either.
There it is again: that inner struggle, if he should tell me or not. I know better than to interfere, but my worry grows when he clenches his jaw and shakes his head. "Qu'à cela ne tienne, oubliez que j'ai rien dit."
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