Time in Willow Creek: 10 months, 2 weeks, 4 days
It had been a while since Kevin had seen his other friends. Months, actually. If he wasn’t hanging out with the art club crew, he was busy with work. One rare, quiet evening, this fact randomly occurred to him. He called up his buddy Marquis Girard and invited him to grab drinks later that night. Marq had been his friend since his wild college days. They had been through everything together, and he knew Kevin better than anyone else. Back in those days, he and Marq would bar hop and close down nightclubs a few times a week. Most of the time he ended up being his wingman. He was tall and had broad shoulders, slim waist, washboard abs, chiseled cheeks, baby blue eyes, and perfectly sculpted sandy blonde hair. He seriously could have made a career out of modeling, but he was very smart and enjoyed pursuits of the mind. As much as he loved books and stretching his brain as far as it could go, he loved to dance and dragged Kevin with him to every club in town. As they got older–and richer–their tastes were refined and lounges became more their style. Kevin was never much of a dancer anyway and enjoyed not having to shake his rump on the dance floor every night.
Kevin arrived at the lounge before his friend and sat at the bar. He ordered a Sea of Fire and vibed to the music playing a few feet from him. A local artist performed a few songs on the piano. The chatter around him drowned most of it. He watched the ladies stroll by as he sipped his drink, nodding to them politely and saying hi when appropriate. It had been a little while since he was last in that environment. He felt slightly out of place, but not like a stranger.
Marq snuck behind him and slapped him on the back. “What’s up, stranger!”
Kevin laughed. “Are you trying to make me lose my drink?”
“Oh, it’s ok, Daddy Warbucks! You’ll just buy yourself 10 more.” Marq tickled himself and thought he was hilarious.
Kevin shook his head and smiled. “You know we don’t do that anymore.”
“What’s up, man? You dropped me for your art geeks?”
“You’re such a comedian,” Kevin said sarcastically. “I told you about my friend, Juliana. At first I just wanted to help her, but then she kinda got me back in the habit again. It’s been fun!”
Kevin knew that tone. “What?”
“You’ve been talking about this Juliana a lot lately…”
Kevin quickly dismissed that notion. “No, no. Don’t do that. She’s my friend! That’s all.”
Marq looked at him doubtfully. “She must be hot. And you two paint together?” He inserted a dramatic pause to see if Kevin would catch on; he didn’t. “Sounds pretty serious to me…given your history with women and art. Does she know?”
“I told her the other night. Look, Marq, it’s not like that, I swear. I realize it probably looks like Caroline all over again, but it’s not that way. Juliana is my friend. Besides…I’m not looking to make anymore mistakes.” He lowered his eyes. “You know what I’ve done.”
Marq felt for his friend and wished that he could rid him of the guilt. “Kev…you’ve been way too hard on yourself, man! You need to learn to trust yourself.”
Kevin rolled his eyes and tried to wave his friend away. “No, I’m doing what I need to do! No one gets close to me unless I let her.”
“Juliana has gotten pretty close…”
Kevin hadn’t exactly thought of it that way and briefly considered the possibilities. He still only saw her as a friend. “What is this, Marq? Look, even if I had feelings for her, I’m not right for her. I have too much baggage.”
“Come on, man! You make yourself out to be some kind of man whore or something! Look…” He scooted closer to Kevin and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Your wife died, man. She told you to move on and find someone else. You were young, gullible, you’re almost as good looking as me…and then you started making that money. Of course the girls came out the woodworks looking for you. No one is throwing any stones, dude. What’s important is that you wised up. Besides, those tricks weren’t about anything…except your wallet. This Juliana sounds special.”
“Yeah…she’s special, but…I don’t know, Marq. I don’t think she’s the one for me. I like how we are now.”
“I’m not saying you have to marry the girl, but I do think you like her. You should explore this.”
The idea wasn’t completely off-putting to him, but Kevin had a thousand reasons why it would be a bad idea. ”She’s so young.”
“You know age is a number! What is she? Like, 23? 24?”
Kevin looked at his friend with a raised eyebrow. “She’ll be 19 next month,” he said flatly.
“Well, you know… Uhhh… Eleven years isn’t too bad. I mean, she’s legal… And, you’re more than legal.” He was doubled over in laughter.
Marq never ceased to amaze Kevin when he laughed at his own jokes. “Anyone ever tell you that you talk entirely too much?”
“I’m serious man. It’s not a big deal if you like this girl.”
“She…she’s innocent,” Kevin said in hushed tones.
“Do you know that for sure?”
“Well, no, but I’m pretty sure she is. I mean, she came here straight from her parents’ house. It’ll feel like I’m dating somebody’s little girl.”
“Hey man, every woman is somebody’s little girl. You never know though. She coulda had a little boy toy in the village!”
Kevin shook his head at his friend’s persistence. “You’re not gonna give up, are you?”
“Look, dude, I’m just saying! I have a good feeling. I think you should stop coming up with excuses, stop beating yourself up, and give this a shot. You know she has a huge crush on you anyway.”
“I’m telling you…she does.”
“Ok, wise one. How do you think she likes me?”
“Dude…she’s 19! And all this time you guys spend together? Pssssh, she’s probably at home right now drawing hearts and writing Mrs. Juliana Garland in her diary!”
“You’re crazy. You know that, right?”