Time in Willow Creek: 2 years, 4 months, 2 weeks, 3 days
The old man ambled toward their destination, not too hurried but not lackadaisically either. Though he led the way to their afternoon of relaxation, Kevin saw the casual excitement emanating off his back. The sight both warmed his heart and filled him with guilt. He and Harold now shared a common, painful experience, and he regretted not being there for him more. Kevin was the only person in Harold’s life who could understand and empathize with him. But, he had been so consumed with Juliana. It all began with comforting her through the grief. Concurrently, he saw her through a personal crisis. In the present day, he was drowning in the sea of her love. He hadn’t made space for anyone else; it’s how he operated. People in his life seemed to play only short roles, leaving him as the lone wolf again and again. He loved people and found it easy to make new friends. But, being alone was easy too; it cut down on the number of disappointments he would surely experience. Harold’s story was opposite his; he blossomed. The once fragile family hunkered down and bound themselves to each other, placing Harold in the center of the cocoon they stitched together for themselves. All of them emerged with beautiful wings though some were bruised and clipped.
The best part about fishing with Harold was that he suggested it. Kevin had neglected their friendship, but Harold found something worth salvaging, and it meant the world to him. Maybe it was their shared experience. Or, maybe Kevin was finally in his inner circle. That would be the icing on the cake though he still didn’t understand why he wanted to be his friend so bad.
When they got to the bank, Harold unpacked his gear. “Let’s see what you got this time, doughboy.”
Kevin couldn’t help but laugh. Of course, Harold would remember his blunder from last time. “I learned my lesson and got some good, old-fashioned worms!”
He grunted. “Guess we’ll see if you can fish after all.”
Fishing was not a competitive sport, but Kevin could not come up empty-handed again. He wanted to be seen as a veritable companion and not some boy who just wanted to tag along even though Harold didn’t mind.
Harold cast his line into the lake while Kevin struggled with the worm. He hadn’t done that in ages and forgot how disturbing it felt to pierce through that slimy flesh. And the guts! Bleh! He had to keep it cool though. Harold couldn’t know how grossed out he was. At last, he impaled the pesky worm and cast his line into the water…a whole five feet behind Harold. Ugh! Surely all the strength he gained over the past few months counted for something, but the old man was right. It had nothing to do with strength. Maybe he would teach him how to flick and dip.
Within the first 15 minutes, Harold caught a huge salmon. Who was this guy? The fish whisperer? Oh, to be on his level!
“Oh yes. I’ve got plans for you, big boy. Yes indeed.”
Kevin chuckled. Did he seriously just taunt the fish? Who knew there could be trash talk in this sport.
Every so often, Kevin’s line jerked, and he got excited though he didn’t show it. Real fisherman didn’t get excited about each and every tug of the line. Instead, he would reel in his line slowly and gently so Harold wouldn’t notice. Still, he came up with nothing.
“I see you finally figured it out, huh?”
He gave him that old mannish grunt laugh and slid him a sly smile. “Juliana.”
Kevin snickered and shook his head. “I’m not always as smart as I look.”
Harold’s head flew back and hearty laughter spilled from his mouth. “Oooh me! You been pining pretty bad. If I had a dollar every time you looked at her, why, I’d be rich as you.”
He and Juliana had been dating for about 10 months. Everyone else had their “I told you so” moment long ago, and now Harold finally got his. Kevin had never seen him so jovial and was all too glad to give him some joy at his expense.
“You got you a good, sturdy woman…like Harriett.”
He said her name so casually. Years went by before Kevin could say Caroline’s name without getting emotional. Maybe emotional fortitude was something that came with age. If so, he looked forward to it. He still beat himself up about crying in front of Juliana that one time. It wasn’t the tears that bothered him per say, but the way some things bothered him so much. Hopefully, in the future, he could be strong like Harold. The man was so amazing. Even in his weak moments, he carried so much strength.
“She’s strong and got her own mind. That’s the kind of woman you need to marry.”
The last time they had that conversation, he was sinking into a pit filled with his own lies. Things always had a funny way of coming back around. Though marriage wasn’t on the table yet, Kevin was open to any and all advice the wise man had to give him.
“Don’t you want some youngins?”
In a way, he reminded him of Harriett when she used to attempt to pair people up; it made him laugh. “Yes, sir.”
“What you waitin on? You might be a spring chicken now, but you gone be an old dog like me one day.”
Juliana’s age still caused internal conflict at times; he certainly did not need an old man telling him he’d be old soon. “With all due respect, Mr. Humphries, we had a hard enough time getting to this stage. There’s no way I’m asking her to marry me right now. I don’t want to push her. She wouldn’t like it.”
He grunted. “She ready. Her folks raised her right. She know how to take care of things. She’s a good woman. And you’re a good man to wait.”
“Thank you, sir.”
After a while, Kevin felt real tugging against his line. “Please be a fish,” he repeated to himself.
“What you got there, boy?”
He cleared his throat and acted casual. “Probably nothing.”
It had to be something! The tugging was so strong and seemed to come from different directions like a fish that tried to run away with the worm. Screw this. Harold could make fun of him if he wanted to, but there was no way Kevin would let this better-be-a-fish go!
He steadied himself and reeled the line in slowly. The fish wouldn’t know what hit it.
“That’s good, boy. Nice and easy.”
Kevin was in the zone and so determined to see a slimy, flappy body on the end of his line, he barely heard the encouragement.
“He’s in the shallow water now. Bring that sucker on in.”
He wound the line as fast as he could until finally the slimy, flappy body he wanted to see shot up out of the water.
How could something so small make such a big fuss? It didn’t matter. He finally caught a fish! Juliana would love to hear about his fishing prowess. Harold could continue heckling him about his bait, but Kevin was a legit fisherman now. He did hope he was proud of him though. Maybe after a few more outings, he’d catch more fish and even cast his line farther than Harold, but before he got ahead of himself, he enjoyed simply not having an empty bucket.