Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 1 month, 3 weeks, 1 day
I need to talk to you about something very important. Please answer when I call.
That’s what the text from Kevin said. She had been avoiding him ever since she received that letter from her mother a month ago. At first, she was upset all the time and couldn’t bring herself to even think about it without falling apart. She spent a lot of time alone but didn’t seclude herself completely; she wanted to avoid suspicion from the others. When she got to the point where she could think rationally, she simply didn’t know what to say. How does one say to another, “I can’t be friends with you anymore because my mom said so” without sounding lame and hurting his feelings? After a while, she had gotten to the point where she felt he needed to know why she had been so distant, but it had been going on so long she was scared to talk to him again. She thought for sure he would be upset. However, she still regarded him as a friend in her heart, and she couldn’t leave him hanging. Whatever that phone call was going to be about, she had to take it. Within 20 minutes, her phone was ringing. She was in the shed playing the piano when the screen on her phone woke up and its melody interrupted her playing. She couldn’t pick it up. Fear of the unknown paralyzed her. It kept ringing and was going to go to voicemail soon. She wanted to pick it up; not answering would surely send a message she did not want to send. But, what did he want? Was he mad? She couldn’t do it. One more ring… She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and answered.
“Hi,” she said. Her voice was so timid.
“Hey!” She could feel his cheesy grin through the phone. It made her feel warm and accepted like she hadn’t lost not even an inch of space in his life. She did the right thing and was relieved. “I’m so glad you picked up…”
She wasn’t sure how she was supposed to reply. What she wanted to say–how much she missed him or even apologize for disappearing–she couldn’t. At least not yet.
He cleared his throat. The silence must have made him uncomfortable. “H-how are you?”
She lied. “I’m ok.”
It was almost too much to hear his voice. The pressure behind her eyes had to started to build up. She pinched her eyes as she tried to concentrate on not falling apart on the phone.
“So…I was calling because I wanted to propose something to you…”
“Ok.” Oh no…
“I, ummm… Gosh…I was much more eloquent in my head.” He chuckled nervously. “Ok, here it goes…let’s open an art gallery!” He waited for a response and didn’t receive one. “Oh no, I hope you don’t think I’m like stealing your idea or anything.” The silence seemed to put him in panic mode. “That’s why I want to do this. I want to help you accomplish your dream.”
She couldn’t hold it. The tears came despite her efforts to hold them. Why did this have to happen now? More importantly, why didn’t she have the courage to disregard what her mother said and go with what she knew was right deep down in her heart?
“Juliana? Are you still there?”
“Yes.” Her voice was weak and broken. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“Are you crying? Juliana, please tell me what I’ve done to you so I can make it right!”
His pleading made it even worse–especially because he was innocent. She wasn’t going to be able to keep it together for much longer. “I have to go. I’m sorry.”
She hung up, left the shed in a flurry of hot, angry tears, and ran up to her room.
* * *
Later on that evening, Marq was supposed to meet Kevin at a nightclub in Newcrest. Kevin had been so positive that Juliana would accept his proposal, he told Marq to meet him at the bar that night long before he ever called Juliana. Marq asked if he should have been counting his chickens before they hatched, but Kevin was so excited and wouldn’t listen to reason. He hoped Kevin was right. That night, when he walked into the club, he halfway expected Kevin to be lighting up the dance floor with his terrible moves or be three drinks away from falling over and buying a round for everyone. Kevin wasn’t like that anymore, of course, but perhaps the wilder, unpolished Kevin would make a special guest appearance if he got excited enough. However, 19-year-old Kevin stayed in the past and sad Kevin was sitting so still at the bar…alone; Marq was looking forward to meeting Juliana finally. He spotted him as soon as he came in. Oh boy, he thought. He’s wearing a sweater? This isn’t going to be fun at all.
He sat next him. “Wassup, bro.”
Man, this girl has her claws in him for real! He thought he’d try a little humor. “Nice sweater…”
“Ok, Kev… What happened?”
Kevin sighed heavily. “She said no.”
“That’s obvious. What happened?”
“That was it! She said no, then she started crying and hung up!”
“Dude, she cried?”
“I just…I don’t know what I’ve done!”
“That’s rough. Look, I don’t know her like you know her, but honestly? This sounds like it has nothing to do with you.”
“How do you think?”
“Dude, she cried. And you don’t recall doing anything worth crying over.”
The bartender placed the drinks in front of them. Kevin grabbed his and took a few swigs. Marq watched him closely. Kevin gulped the drink like he was trying to feel its effects quickly. His posture was stiff and his eyes were dark and frustrated. Marq had seen that behavior and body language before. Perhaps not in the same way, but his friend was not that mysterious.
“Kev,” he said carefully. “Just admit it, man.”
“Just admit you’re in love with her, dude. It’s cool, ok? Everybody knows it already except you.”
Kevin smirked and shook his head like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Can I get another?” he said to the bartender.
“Come on, man! You’re not upset because she doesn’t want to do business with you. You’re upset because you’re not with her! You’ve been all mopey for a month, man.”
“How many times do we have to have the same conversation, Marq? It’s not like that!”
“Dude! Are you serious? What is it like then? Dudes don’t invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into ‘just a friend.'”
Kevin held Marq’s glance for a short while before he looked away to take the last sip of his first drink. “…she’s a special friend.”
The bartender placed a fresh Sweet ‘n Sour in front of him.
“KEV! Do you hear yourself? What do you think special means? Heck, what do you think dating is? Cuz you know that’s what you two are doing, right?”
For once, Kevin looked like he was considering what his friend had said. However, he picked up his drink, excused himself, and walked away. Whatever was going on inside his head, Marq wanted to let him have whatever moment he needed to take alone. One way or another he was going to make him wake up. Maybe not that night, but soon.
Twenty minutes later, Marq found him in a quiet corner nursing the same drink.
“I’m not in love with her,” Kevin said finally.
“How do you know?”
Kevin looked around the club like he was searching an answer. “Because… I don’t think about…you know.”
Marq looked at him skeptically. “Banging her? HA! If that’s your definition of being in love, it’s no wonder you don’t see it.” He shook his head and took another swig of drink. “Dude…if anything? You not wanting to bang Juliana says a whole lot. You must really love her. Like more than–
“Don’t say that!”
His tone was terse and daring. There was a coldness in his glare. Marq knew it was time to abandon that subject, but he couldn’t help but wonder why Kevin was still hanging onto Caroline. Their marriage wasn’t even that great, he thought. She and Kevin were so different, and they were so young. Marq remembered them fighting a lot. Fighting and make-up sex. That’s all they had. Of course, everyone knew the first years of marriage were the most difficult, but Caroline died before they could normalize their relationship and live a more harmonious existence.
“I’m sorry, dude. I didn’t mean any disrespect. It’s just that you–
Kevin arose. “I gotta go. I’ll see you around.”