"Why won't you run in the rain and play
Let the tears splash all over you..."

You can only love one CD for so long. The tunes may be as dazzling as ever, the rhythm and tone just as mesmerizing, the lyrics just as touching, but even great music will wear itself out after a time. One day, maybe weeks, maybe months, or even years after you've first heard it, memorized it, cherished it, loved it, it just doesn't sound the same. Then you know it's time to put it away for a while and move on to Dispatch.

It's raining outside. The thousands of small thuds of water droplets against the windshield make an erratic complement to the waning music. I hesitate for a second, my finger on the eject button as Dave Matthews' voice fades away into the speakers. Somehow, I just can't bring myself to exert the pressure needed for the player to relinquish the compact disc. I sigh, pick up my cell, and dial the numbers I've been waiting to for so long to dial.

It's funny when you meet people how you never know what kind of role they're going to play in your life. You're introduced to new people every day. Some you remember, build friendships with, learn to care for, honor, and occasionally share that mysterious thing known as nothing. Most dwindle into obscurity soon after the formalities of introduction are over. Even so, meeting people always begins in the same, unassuming way. You'd think the average person would be more apprehensive if he knew that the next time he says "hello" it could change his life forever.

I remember when we first met, at a party hosted by the family of a mutual friend. My father got totally wasted, hugging people he'd never met and offering to get us all drunk along with him. I doubt if he remembers that we obliged. I picked up a taste for White Russians that night. I also picked up a taste for brown-eyed brunettes in crimson silk underwear.

People know her as Jen. She knows her as Jen. She was probably introduced to me as Jen. But after that night, she became Red to me. The first real memory I have of us is when we were with some of our friends after dinner at the party. We spotted one of those expensive, comfortable leather recliners lying unused in a corner, and we each took off after it like two kids with the last cookie in our crosshairs. The next thing I knew we were hip to hip in that recliner meant to hold one person, red in the face and laughing at each other as we struggled to free ourselves. Then, with a wink, she put her hand on my thigh and pushed herself out of our mutual snare, eyes sparkling as she walked back to our approaching friends. I noticed that her knee-length Satin skirt had ridden down a bit, exposing just the slightest strip of bright red heaven, hinting at what was beneath. She was Red after that.

"The storm is outside, the fire is bright
You've got me wild, turned around inside..."

My hand trembling, I dial her number, my fingers not even conscious of the keys they're pressing. Though my anxiety is far from over, I feel a slight bit of relief. Calling her takes more of my willpower than simply running my hand over a keypad. There's that split second of silence as the cell accesses its destination. Then, a mechanical ringing mingles with sound of acoustic guitars and raindrops. And I wait.

I knew she liked me then. I probably liked her then, too. I just didn't think I did. Yet the way she would toss her shoulder-length auburn hair, her wistful glances at me when she thought I wasn?t paying attention, the excited, nervous look in her eyes whenever I was around all made me suspect something.

But while I was friendly, I ignored her charms. I thought that I was in love - with someone else. Now, I realize how dumb I was, how little I knew about life, about love, and especially about Red and me. At the time, I was "dating" some beautiful, vain Melissa or Brittany or Tiffany or whoever. I guess there was mutual attraction, maybe even mutual respect. We went on a few dates, but didn't really talk. We kissed, but we didn't really mean it. I guess I was more attracted to the idea of "Melissa" than I was to Melissa. But that idea was enough to keep me from realizing the potential that had literally dropped into my lap one night more than two years ago.

After the party, my relationship with Red developed. We began to talk, to know each other, to enjoy each other. We became what I began to think of as friends. But friendships can only last so long when one person has feelings for another.

It was a typical Friday afternoon at "Rico's Pizzeria" The lunchtime rush had just begun, and the place was awash with the discourse of familiar faces, the fragrances of baked bread and melted cheese, the cheeriness of taking a break from the day's monotony. For once, it was just Red and I out for a casual slice. Have you ever noticed how things can actually taste different depending on how you feel? Well, I didn't until that Friday. It was right at the moment that Red disclosed her feelings for me that I remember my greasy slice of cheese pizza change from being a slice of culinary bliss to fat, dough, and sauce poisoning my taste buds. I never finished my lunch.

For a time, I considered what it might be like to be with her, to know her, to love her. But there was still Melissa. I did not want to choose. I was not ready to choose. But Red made me choose. And, I chose Melissa. I still don't know why. Maybe I really did like Melissa. Maybe I was just scared of failing with Red. But I had my first chance with her, and I broke her heart.

"Tangled tongues and lips, see me this way
I'm turning and turning for you, Girl, just tonight..."

Dave Matthews sings, the rain falls, and the phone rings... and rings... and rings. With each chime my reserves of hope shrink, and the twinge in my gut spreads. Waiting for someone important to pick up the phone has got to be one of life's most unnerving experiences. After the fifth or sixth ring, I realize my visit may be shorter than I had planned. The phone stops. I feel like I'm about to throw up. "Hi guys, it's Jen! I'm not here right now so -" ...I can't leave a message. I won't leave a message.

They say that time heals all wounds. I'm not so sure about that, but it certainly helps. I don't think Red ever got over my initial rejection, but I think she moved on. Slowly, tentatively, we began to get reacquainted with each other, to learn to be comfortable with each other all over again. Our friendship wasn't the same as it used to be? it was a little more cautious, a little more reserved. I think she still felt the scar I had left on her heart.

Meanwhile, my life seemed poised on the verge of an incredible high. I was going away for the summer - and Brittany was going with me. It was everything I had been dreaming of since puberty hit. No authority, total independence, a summer in a place far from home... and the girlfriend I hardly ever got to see.

I arrived, Brittany arrived, and my bubble came crashing down. For the first week, I could not talk with Brittany. For the first week, I did not want to see Brittany. For the first week, I could not even kiss Brittany. After an excruciating seven days, seven days of hiking down from the tops of mountains and meditating in forests, of riding horses and crafting friendship bracelets, of making new friends and becoming closer with old ones, she sat next to me during a meal. I didn?t know what to say. She didn't either. We just stared blankly at each for a moment. Finally, she whispered "What are we?"

What are we? What were we? It was then that I realized how shallow my relationship with Brittany was. After more than a year of thinking I was in a relationship, I realized I wasn't in relationship. Even more terrifying, I realized I didn't know what the term relationship meant.

The rest of that summer and into the fall, I went from liking girl to girl, unsure of whether or not what I felt was genuine, too scared to fully admit I had no idea what I was doing. The targets of my affection picked up on this lack of sincerity, and for the most part kept their distance from me. My perfect summer lay in ruins.

Then, for the last two weeks in August, Red came up and we connected again. Being away from her had done our friendship a lot of good. We shared an intimacy we hadn't experienced before. I felt comfortable telling her even my most discomforting secrets. She was comfortable hearing them and telling me secrets of her own. We even began to talk about relationships. Before the two weeks were over, I was conveniently dating Red's friend.

"It's all ours on our way here
Tomorrow go back to being friends..."

I turn the music up so I can't hear the rain. I don't know what to do. I'm caught between opening my car door and running out into the pouring rain so I can see her and driving off into the unknown, maybe never to come back again. It's as if these two opposing thoughts are threatening to tear me in two. But my indecision results in another course of action. I do nothing. As Dave Matthews' song reaches its apex, I aimlessly sit in my car with the engine still running, looking at falling droplets of water I can no longer hear, waiting for something I'm not sure will happen. Things were different with Red's friend - she wasn't like Tiffany. For the first time, I connected with someone, I touched someone, I liked someone. For the first time, my feelings where based on how I felt, and not how I thought I should feel.

One weekend evening, it was us and the gang at my house for a late movie. It was one of those nights where you remember everything about her and nothing about the movie. Bruce Willis shoots a goon, and, oh God, my arm was around her. Bruce Willis rescues sexy girl, and, oh God, she was right up next to me, her leg inside mine? I could hear her breathe, smell her perfume, feel her hand sweating in my own. It drove me wild. Bruce Willis ceased to matter as she captured my attention, became my distraction, my own private little movie. An hour later and everyone was gone. She pulled the blanket over our heads and asked me what we should do. I ended up learning what a real kiss felt like. I'll never forget that night.

A month passed, and she didn't like me any more. I had held her, fondled her, kissed her, laughed with her, bared my soul to her, and she didn't like me any more. She didn't even feel like telling me, either. The bitch.

Homecoming came. We ordered a limo, a sleek ebony Cadillac that's every little kid's dream. The girls were all dressed in gowns they'd worried over for hours, their hair done, make-up spotless, and high heels probably killing them. They all looked marvelous. It was supposed to be the night of our lives. But she couldn't find her stupid cell phone. The entire night everyone was laughing, dancing, making out in dim places and the bitch didn't know where her cell phone was. She must have thought it was in the tall blond boy's pocket, the way she was talking with him. I saw lust in her eyes that should have been for me. It wasn?t long before the bitch and the blond boy went to look for her cell phone alone together.

The evening was warm for September. I didn't even need my jacket. It was so warm that even my tears felt cool as they slid down my damp skin. Then Red came and sat next to me. She wasn't having a good time either. We didn't say anything the rest of the night - we just held hands and watched the stars come out as the party drew on, companions through our misery. As I gazed at Red, I realized how she always seemed to be there for me when I needed her the most, when my parents were jerks, when I quarreled with friends, when I suffered through my relationships with girls. Over the past year and a half, all sorts of people seemed to be casually fading in and out of my life. But not Red. In the last hours of the day that warm September, I learned what it was to fall in love.

Lunch again. That time it was Chinese. I'd long since stopped eating. Words came out of my mouth but I didn't know what they were. All I was aware of was the look on Red's face. I don't think her Sesame chicken was as sweet as it was about a minute before I started spewing those empty words. As I kept talking, a look of painful inquisitiveness, of unwanted understanding dawned on her tan, lovely face. Her brow furrowed, her mouth dropped open, and her amber eyes began to water with the pain I'd caused her.

"What I'm saying is, Jen, I l-" I love you. I love you. I love you. My mind repeated what her finger on my lip prevented me from saying. It was her turn to break my heart.

"And hear me call, soft-spoken whispering love
A thing or two I have to say here..."

The song continues. I wait in panic for a few minutes... a month... a year... an eternity. I glance towards her yellow Victorian house, and although it's hard to tell because of the refraction of the raindrops, I see the front door open. A white blur comes out and works its way towards me. The white blur grows a head, some arms, goose-bump ridden legs. Soon I can make out a drenched mop of shoulder-length chestnut hair. Suddenly, Red is in the car with me, sitting on the passenger side, soaking the cured leather seat. I notice that she's wearing a scarlet bra through her useless white shirt. I wonder if she has on matching underwear. Then I gaze into her eyes. "I knew it was you," she whispers.

Two weeks later I met some new people at a party. That was a fun party. Any party with lots of girls and games and a hot tub is going to be a fun party. There was this one girl with nice curves and a long nose who kept trying to get me to laugh. It didn't work very well. At last, she took my hand and put it under her shirt. There wasn't anything there. But I didn't laugh. I was too shocked to laugh. A short time after, I was dating the girl with the nice curves and the long nose.

For three months, I was happy. Red was my friend again, she was dating some guy she liked, and I was dating a girl I was convinced I liked. New Years came around. The gang was together again, although some faces had gone and were replaced by others. Two hours before midnight, I was downstairs with my long-nosed girl. Her shirt was off. She was teaching me about French kissing. Suddenly there was a knock on the door upstairs. It was the gang. They were going to go out somewhere and wanted to know if we'd like to join them. Cursing, I ran up the stairs, locked the door, and went back to the toplessness and the French kissing. Sometimes friends can be annoying.

My relationship with the curvy girl didn't end very suddenly. It just kind of deteriorated slowly, like a dying flame of an untended fire. We didn't really break up for any one reason. We just... drifted apart. Maybe it was because the only fun times we ever had were when we weren't alone, maybe it was because we were only comfortable alone when we weren't talking, or maybe it was her nose, but after three months we broke up. When it ended, I went right back to being heartbroken again. But it wasn't because of the curvy girl with the long nose. It was because of Red.

Red had been busier than I. She's a beautiful, funny girl, and beautiful, funny girls don't have much of a problem attracting lots of beautiful, funny guys. Sometimes she would date guys because she felt something for them, sometimes she would date them because they felt something for her, and sometimes she wouldn't really date them - she'd just act like it some of the time. I'm not sure Red really knew what she wanted. I'm still not sure she knows what she wants.

She was dating a prude Mormon boy when I ended things with the curvy girl. A prude Mormon boy who wouldn't even kiss her. A prude Mormon boy who she didn't like and sometimes cheated on. I guess it must have been because he felt something for her. Anyway, it wasn't long before she knew my feelings for her remained. We had grown too close to keep secrets from each other for long. She was my best friend now. But she didn't try to end my feelings. She accepted them. She accepted them and went on with her life. I wish I could accept my feelings and move on with my life.

Time passed. My friends changed. My family changed. Even I changed. But my feelings for Red didn't. She broke up with Mormon boy. But she was leaving for the summer. She was leaving and she didn't want a relationship and I wouldn't get to see her for three months - three whole months! The day before she left, I panicked. I panicked by getting into my car, putting in Dave Matthews, and driving. I drove haphazardly, not knowing where to go, who to go to, or what to talk about with whoever I went to. The sky grew darker, and still Dave Matthews sang on, urging me to do what I knew I had to. Finally, I began to execute the turns I needed, and pulled up next to a yellow Victorian house right as the first drops of rain began to fall on the hood of my car. The sky wasn't the only thing that was watering.

"Just for tonight, one nightlove you
And tomorrow say good-bye..."

Dave Matthews sings his interminable song, the rain keeps falling, my car's engine keeps running just as it has since I got here. But I don't notice any of that now. I feel chilly lips pressed against mine, a wet hand tickling the back of my head. I can't breathe, but it's fine with me. I can't see, but it doesn't matter. I can't think but the last thing I need right now is a coherent thought. All I want - all I ever wanted - is in my arms, her tongue in my mouth, her lips locked with mine, closer than we've ever been. I could die right now and I would be happy.

The kiss with the one I've loved, I love, I will always love, bitterly, slowly, sadly comes to an end. The car door opens, and Red becomes an obscure brunette, then a white blur with arms and legs, and soon just a white blur. I smile as I notice just a hint of scarlet peaking out from above the top of her low-cut denim shorts.

As Red gradually fades away from me, so too does the song. In the period before the next song on the album begins to play, I think of all that I have been through the past two years. It's funny how most people fade in and out of your life, becoming more important, then less important to you with each month that goes by. Red, however, has been the focus of my life for over two years. Come to think of it, so has the voice of Dave Matthews. For the first time in a long time, I drive in complete silence. The CD is finally ejected. The music is finally gone. Silently, I peruse through my nearly forgotten CD case. It's time to try somethig new.

lyrics from Dave Matthews: Crash, Say Goodbye
Dedicated to the bonds of friendship and inexperienced love