And so the story of Mat continues…
Mat leaned back in his chair and sipped at the beer in his hand. He loved weather like this. It was evening, growing darker by the minute, and fog was spreading through the area. The air was warm, as could be expected on a summer day, and the moisture seeping through the neighborhood provided a welcome chill for his sweaty body. He sat facing the setting sun, savoring the quickly fading glow that dissipated through the tendrils of fog rising in the air.
He had a newspaper open on the patio table next to him, and he idly filled in the Sudoku puzzle while waiting for Andy to call. He was excited for the weekend: after months of doing nothing but work, he was ready for a fun weekend out at his friend Charley’s cabin. Fun times always seemed to ensue when they went there.
After filling in a two that had been troubling him for some time, Arnold leaned back and took a long swallow from the bottle in his hand. Condensation made it slip a bit as he tilted it up, and the wet label tore under the friction of his palm. While the dark and bitter stout flowed down his throat, he thought about the possibilities of the weekend. He was thirty, now, and still single. Ever since Nicole, he hadn’t been able to commit to anything. Oh, he’d gone on his share of dates, but nobody drew him in. He knew he was afraid, but he tried not to let that surface in his mind.
Mat felt a bit of anger coming on, and he knew that he had no defense against it, now. Two years had passed. Two years.
He shook his head and put the pencil down, unwilling and perhaps even unable to deal with two conundrums at the same time. He felt he owed it to himself to put his general distrust of girls behind him. After all, being thirty and afraid of relationships wasn’t exactly what he would consider an ideal stage of life to be in.
Mat thought back to Nicole. He remembered the good times, the romantic dates and the wonderful nights. Most of all, though, he remembered her confession of cheating. His stomach turned, even so long after the fact. He knew he would never forget that day, a week after he first got an inkling of it. He would never forget the tears leaking from her eyes, blurring her mascara and tracing dark lines down her cheeks. Most of all, though, he would never forget the feeling of betrayal.
He sighed and took another swallow of beer. Maybe the cabin would be the catalyst he needed. Charley always had fun girls up with them; it wasn’t out of the question that he could meet someone special in the coming days.
With a firm and slightly sarcastic nod at the brown glass bottle before him, Mat decided he would give it a shot.
He felt a buzzing from his pocket, and extricated his ringing phone. His immediate thought was that it was some sort of sign, that life or fate or God himself was telling him that he made the right choice, and now Andy was calling him to let him know the details for heading out that night.
Those thoughts evaporated in a blissful cloud of mist. It wasn’t Andy calling. It was Charley. A little perplexed, Mat answered the phone: “Yo.”
He expected Charley to respond with his normal bass, saying something along similar lines as his greeting. What he heard was instead a surprisingly high-pitched rush of words. He couldn’t understand more than one word in five or six.
“Whoa, slow down, buddy. What’s going on?”
He heard Charley take a deep breath and then resume speaking in a more controlled fashion. “There’s a fire. A big one. On the east side.”
The east side. Where Andy lived.
Mat forgot to respond in his haste to twist around in his chair and look eastward. He stood up, and stared at the glow lighting up the sky over Andy’s neighborhood, painting the low clouds of fog in a lurid ruby glow.