Before We Were Strangers: A Love Story: Chapter 19

What Happened to Us?

GRACE

The day after Matt left, I auditioned for a grunge band as a cellist at a little venue off Allen Street in the East Village. Their music was like Nirvana, with haunting runs and loud, screaming choruses. I imagined that we would end up on VH1’s Unplugged, and I’d have an awesome career as a rock cellist, guesting for all the who’s-who bands in New York. I felt like I was finally following my dreams.

I kept to myself, played well, practiced a lot, and collected my money at the end of the week. For three nights, I made a hundred and twenty dollars. Things were promising, and I was excited to tell Matt about it.

A week and a half after he left, he called for the first time. I was practicing in my room when Daria knocked on my door and yelled, “Grace! Matt’s on the phone for you in the lounge.”

I ran down the stairs, wearing nothing but one of Matt’s T-shirts and an old tattered pair of underwear. I didn’t care—I was so fucking excited.

“Hello!” I said, out of breath.

“Fuck, this phone call is costing me, like, seventy bucks.”

My excitement died a little at his greeting. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Never mind. Oh my god, I have so much to tell you.”

“Tell me.”

“National Geographic is launching a television channel in September. There’s going to be tons of new job openings, and I’ve already totally impressed Elizabeth.”

“Who’s Elizabeth?”

“She’s the lead photographer on this project. She’s supercool and she personally picked me for the internship after she saw my portfolio. I didn’t even know.”

I wanted to ask him how old she was and if she was pretty. “I’m so happy for you, Matt.”

He yelled, “I’ll be right there!” to someone in the background. “Hey, Gracie, I had to take a bus three hours to get to this phone. There’s nothing down here so I don’t know when I’ll be able to call you again.”

“Okay, no worries.”

“I gotta go. The next bus is leaving soon, and they’re holding it for me. Hey, I miss you.” The last part sounded like such an afterthought that it made my stomachache.

“I miss you, too. See ya.”

“Bye.” He hung up.

It’s not good-bye. It’s not good-bye. Never say good-bye.

Staring at my bare feet, I thought about how he didn’t ask me what I was up to. I never even got a chance to tell him about the band gigs.

Tati stood there, leaning against the doorjamb of the front door with her arms crossed over her chest. “Where are your pants?”

“That was Matt.”

“I figured. Are you gonna get dressed today? I’ve come to pick you up for lunch. You can tell me all about it then.”

“Yeah.”

“Come on.” She motioned with her head toward the door.

“Okay,” I said. “Sandwiches?”

“Anything’s better than ramen.”

Tati and I met for lunch every Wednesday for the next month. Sometime in early July, she asked if I had talked to Matt, and I told her no.

“How come he hasn’t called?”

“I might have missed him. I don’t know, he’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s hard to coordinate these things. I’m sure he’s fine.”

When I got home that day, one of the summer RAs had taped an envelope to my door with a note that said, Way to go, Matt! I had told her all about Matt’s internship since she was a photography major at Tisch, plus I was always checking in with her to find out if Matt had called.

I opened it up to find an article from a photography magazine. The cover was a photograph of Matt taking a picture of a woman taking a photograph of herself in a mirror. The headline said, “The Beauty Behind the Camera.”

I swallowed hard and tried to fight the nausea as I read all about the young, beautiful Elizabeth Hunt, who was making a huge name for herself at National Geographic. And then, at the very end, I read three sentences that changed the course of my life forever.

Hunt points out that her partnership with Matthias Shore, a promising young talent who recently emerged from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, has proven to be a fruitful union. Their next assignment includes a six-month expedition off the coast of Australia, exploring the Great Barrier Reef and the great white shark’s breaching behavior while hunting. “Matt and I are thrilled about this opportunity and excited to take our partnership to the next level,” Hunt said.

We were so young, and life was already offering so many twists and turns. But did I have to accept what I had just read without arguing my case?

No way.

I immediately called Aletha in a daze. “Hello, Aletha, it’s Grace.”

“So good to hear from you, dear. How are you? Everything okay?”

“Fine,” I said with little emotion. “I wondered if you had heard from Matt?”

“Oh yes, sweetie, I just talked to him yesterday.”

I was gutted. Why hadn’t he called me? I was practically sleeping by the phone in the lounge. “You did? What did he say?”

“Oh, we’re all so proud of Matt. He’s really making a name for himself in such a short time.”

“Yes, I’ve heard,” I said, somewhat icily.

“Nothing can slow down Matt’s career, and his father is so proud of him. You know what that means to Matt.”

“Oh, wonderful.” My voice was shrinking by the second. “Did he mention me by any chance?”

“He said if anyone asks, to let them know that he’s okay.”

Anyone?

“Well . . . I guess if you hear from him in the next couple of days, will you ask him to call me?”

“Yes, of course, Grace. He’s been calling every week, so I’ll let him know.”

Oh, he has, has he?

I hung up with Aletha and ran back to my room, barely able to comprehend all the new information I had just learned. Elizabeth Hunt . . . Australia for six months . . . Weekly phone calls with his mom . . .

Three more days went by, with still no word from Matt. I dragged myself out of bed, too tired to cry and too sad to eat. I went to the lounge and called Tati.

“Hello?”

“It’s Grace.”

“Hey, how are you?”

“Can you come over?”

“I’ll be there in a bit.” She could hear the pain in my voice.

She came thundering into my room fifteen minutes later. I held the article about Matt and Elizabeth out to her. She read it to herself. All she did was shake her head and offer me a cigarette.

“I’m okay, Tati.”

“Don’t overreact, Grace,” she said.

“I’m not overreacting.” By then I had stopped crying. “Just let Dan know I’m in. I’m going on tour with you guys.”

Tati grinned back at me. “Good. You won’t regret it.”


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