Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 4 months, 1 week, 5 days
Kevin looked at the phone in his hand like it was diseased before he put it back up to his ear. He had to make sure he heard right. “Axel? Hillary’s brother? Why?”
“Because…” Juliana sounded like she was struggling, starting and stopping sentences. She clearly didn’t want to answer, but he needed to know. “Long time ago, Harriett wanted us to go out, but….I didn’t like him.”
He took in a long, deep breath and rubbed his forehead as he tried to maintain his composure. His behavior was strange, and he didn’t understand what he was feeling. It never once occurred to him that Juliana would want to hang out with another man. Never once. In the middle of his cleansing breath, a thought occurred to him. His hand flew away from his head, and his eyes narrowed. “Wait…I thought you said you had never been on a date before.” He felt a little bit betrayed.
“I don’t like thinking about it.” Her voice escalated ever so slightly. “He was not nice. And, it was not like a real date. Hillary and Jase were there.”
He couldn’t believe what he was hearing and shook his head as if to clear his mind. Surely he wasn’t understanding her properly. “Whoa, whoa, whoa…” He pat the air. “You’re going out with a guy you barely like and wasn’t good to you, and you think that’s a good idea because…”
A frustrated sigh came from her end of the line. “…I feel like I have to…for Harriett.”
She sounded so sweet and sincere, but he still was not buying it. He threw himself backward into the chair he was sitting in. “Are you serious, Juliana?” His voice was an octave higher than it usually was. “That makes no sense! Why would you want to put yourself in that position again?” He was sitting on the lower patio and hoped he wasn’t loud enough for his neighbors or passersby to hear.
“…I…you can’t understand.”
He snorted and thought he understood quite well. Ever since he met Axel at the hospital, he got bad vibes from him. Why would she go out with him again? And, why now? He probably assumed they were together like most people did and decided to take Juliana for himself just to prove he was man enough or some nonsense like that. He was probably sweet-talking her after the funeral. Kevin hadn’t forgotten how weird Juliana acted when he checked on her and found her talking to him. However, as much as he disliked the situation, he knew he would not be able to convince her of how asinine it was.
After a moment of tussling his hair, he caved. “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t understand.” His tone was a bit terser than he intended. She wasn’t trying to hurt him, and much to his chagrin, none of this was about him. He took another deep, cleansing breath and resolved to be calmer. “I’m sorry. Look…just be careful, ok? I don’t trust this guy. Try not to be alone with him.”
“I know.” She sounded annoyed.
He was too. “Ok. Well, I’ve got some work I need to finish up. I’ll talk to you later?”
“All right….Goodnight, Juliana.”
“Pffft. Date with Axel. Hmph.”
He arose, trotted up the first set of stairs and walked around the pool.
“It’s a terrible idea. What is she thinking about?”
He stomped up the second set of stairs to his office.
“She’s not! She can’t be!”
He waited for his computer to come on.
“She would never agree to go out with him if she were thinking straight….Why am I talking to myself??”
There were hundreds of emails in his inbox taunting him, but he couldn’t focus. His fingers banged the keys and he kept misspelling words; it was clearly not the time to be working. He leaned back in his chair and with his arms crossed over his chest. The conversation had gotten him so riled up. Surely a jog on the treadmill would expend enough energy to calm down and get back to work. He pushed himself from the chair and marched to his bedroom in a huff to change clothes.
Usually, he would turn on the television and catch up on the news while he ran, but he opted for silence. He wanted the hum of the treadmill and the plip-plop of his sneakers to gradually stamp out the negative thoughts. But, he found the silence to be haunting as well. All he could think about was Juliana and Axel. Why was this happening? They weren’t even from the same planet. What could they possibly do together? That question both worried and angered him. Axel seemed like the kind of guy who had wooed and deflowered many nice, innocent girls.
Kevin punched up the speed on the treadmill and increased his pace to a full on run. He had to get those thoughts out of his head. Again, he wasn’t sure what he was feeling. All he knew was that he hated the idea of Juliana spending time with Axel.
The steady beat of his sneakers plopping against the rubber echoed through the empty room just the way he wanted. He thought he was safe until he remembered feeling betrayed. How could Juliana lie to him? Like, actually not tell the truth to his face. It wasn’t that serious of a lie, but it was so shocking. He didn’t think lying was her thing. Frankly, he didn’t think Juliana had many things. Maybe that was part of his problem. He had exalted her on this narrow pedestal and was now watching her teeter on the edge. What would he do if she actually fell off? He couldn’t blame anyone except himself.
He remembered how he lied to her once. Sure, he had a good reason, but it was still a lie. Juliana probably had a good reason too. He wondered what it was and hoped she wasn’t jeopardizing her safety. After all, one doesn’t hide her acquaintance with a person unless something bad happened. What did he do? Did he touch her? It couldn’t be that. Why would she give him another chance if he did? No, they were too different. They’d probably have one date, find they have nothing in common and never see each other again. Everything was going to be fine.
The squeaking of the belt joined in and added a little variety to the silence along with the gushing of the fountains outside. His thoughts slowed for a moment and gifted him with a sound mind. He even got into a nice stride, and his breaths were in sync with his steps for just a few moments.
However, his steps slowed as his thoughts ramped up again. The only thing they did have in common was Harriett! That was probably the deepest connection they could possibly have. Kevin didn’t feel so good. Juliana was already so connected to that family, they’d probably get no objections from anyone if things were to turn serious. They even had Harriett’s blessing. And Juliana…well, she was so loyal. That was one of his favorite qualities about her. Probably her best. Would she actually go for Axel simply because of her love for Harriett? What about….He shook his head rapidly and slapped his cheeks as if to wake himself.
“Come on, Kevin. Pull it together!”
He tried to concentrate harder on his run, increasing his speed even more, but the crazy train rolled on.
It was obvious his thoughts would prevail. He admitted defeat and gave up.
Where does that leave me? She won’t forget me…will she?