[This is a multi-part story. Lexi Brown is trying to escape her past and create a new life for herself in Otter Village, 500 miles from where a traumatic event occurred 6 months ago. In our last episode, we read that Lexi was trying to figure out how to get a ride to find Dan, who might have become stranded or injured on the way to Otter Village.
Here are the posts in order so far:
“Please stop thanking me.” Kevin smiled at Lexi as they waited for the to-go coffees she insisted on paying for. “This is what friends do. And…” he whispered in her ear, “I hope by now we’re more than just friends.”
Blushing, Lexi felt the warmth of his words permeate across all her nerve endings. “We definitely are. At least I’m not asking you to help me bury a body.”
He rolled his eyes and hugged her. “Not yet! With you, there’s never a dull moment.”
The java jockey yelled out Lexi’s name even though they were the only customers in the downtown Coffee Shop at 9pm. Kevin and Lexi fixed up their coffees and returned to his car. After buckling up, Lexi unlocked her phone and showed him the coordinates that Nick had texted to her earlier.
Kevin plugged them into his GPS. “One hundred eighty-eight miles. Three hours and thirty-five minutes. Let’s crank up the tunes!” He handed her his phone with the music app open.
“Ugh, what’s all this Rush and Metallica?” Lexi frowned as she scrolled through his playlists. Who knew sweet Kevin had such horrible taste in music?
“Sorry. Those are my workout jams.” He pulled onto the freeway. “Keep going. There are some mellow oldies in there.”
Lexi selected a Beatles mix. “This is nice. Takes me way back. My dad is a huge fan.”
“Mine too. Though my mom is more of a country fan.”
“I love country!” Lexi said. “Vicky and I saw Blake Shelton last year in Dallas on his Freaks tour and he was incredible!”
Kevin looked at her. “Country music, huh? I have a feeling we’re going to learn a lot of interesting things about each other tonight.”
Lexi picked up her coffee and sipped it. “Yeah… and speaking of that, weren’t you going to tell me more about yourself, Mr. Mysterious?”
“I was, but I thought we agreed that would happen tomorrow on our beach picnic.”
“We’ve got three hours to kill now.”
“True.” Kevin grinned at her in the dark. “I will confess my last name isn’t Mysterious. It’s actually Caruso.”
“I already knew that! It’s on the business card you gave me the day we met.” She put her coffee back in the cup-holder. “You were going to tell me why you left Chicago.”
He sighed. “All right. Let’s start at the beginning then. I come from a big Italian family, just like in the movies. Not a mob movie!”
Lexie laughed. “I hope not!”
“Just big and close and in each other’s face all the time.” Kevin drank some coffee. “I have three older sisters. Then my dad was excited to have a son he could mold into a mini-him. I always knew I was destined to major in business and take over his property management company. He made that clear. He was always proud of my achievements as long as they aligned with his goals.”
“I bet. Not so great for you though?” Lexi only had the one sister, whom she loved dearly, but even they’d had their tense moments. She watched the expressions on Kevin’s face as he talked about his past and saw both love and pain as he discussed his family.
“It had positives. I knew there were always people around to care about me and support me.” Kevin glanced at her. “Like you and Vicky, I imagine, just a lot more of them.”
“Right. But we were always free to pursue our own interests. Our parents didn’t pressure us.” Lexi knew she’d led a relatively charmed life until her marriage fell apart. “It’s hard to accept heartbreak when you’ve only seen people acting good and loving.”
“True. Isn’t that ironic? A stable, happy life doesn’t necessarily prepare us for adversity.” Kevin hummed along to the next song for a minute. Then he said, “I never questioned this system though. I was a sheep, baaaa.”
Lexi laughed. “Until…?”
“Until Emily.” He grimaced. “Need a rest stop?”
“No.” She checked the time. “Maybe in an hour, when we’re closer. Who is Emily?”
“My ex-fiancée. And now married to my former best friend.”
“Yikes.” Impulsively, Lexi reached for his hand. “I’m sorry.”
“Thanks. It really sucks. And there’s a lot more to it. She’s a family friend, naturally. From the neighborhood. Her parents owned a store there. Everyone was so happy for us, and then her parents got killed in a car wreck. A kid lost control on the ice and slammed into them. That was almost two years ago now. Emily blamed herself because they were on their way to pick her up from the airport. I should have canceled my meeting and gone to get her. It was a bad day, even for a Chicago winter.”
“Oh no! Oh, my God. How horrible.”
“It was. Devastating. We were all in shock. Emily took it the worst, of course. She got more and more depressed as the months passed. We put off the wedding because she didn’t feel like planning anything. She never returned to work and watched TV at her grandparents’ house all day and night. Then she told me she didn’t want kids because she couldn’t bear it if something happened to them. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. She accused me of not being supportive, of only wanting her to, quote, pop out babies, unquote. Which is not true.”
“Of course not!” Lexi rushed to his defense. “But that’s a big commitment to make for a lifetime when you’re grieving…”
Kevin nodded. “The thing was… after that big fight, I began to question if I did love her or was just doing what was expected of me. Being a good boy. Majoring in business. Working for my dad. Dating the nice girl from the neighborhood. On and on. Did I even want this life that had been mapped out for me by other people?”
Lexi squeezed his hand, so sad for his pain, yet so glad he was with her right now. She made a mental note to tell him that later.
“Anyway,” he continued. “Before I had a chance to sort that all out in my own head, Emily slept with my best friend. She didn’t make a secret of it either. Everyone saw her drunk and throwing herself at him at a local bar.”
Lexi shook her head. “Not much of a best friend if he couldn’t say no. She might have been acting crazy with grief and despair, finally coming back to the world. She might have hoped he’d say no.”
“Maybe.” Kevin shrugged. “But he didn’t. I ended it with her the next day and felt relief, until my family began hounding me nonstop. They were angry with me. With me! They thought I should forgive her. Just pretend it didn’t happen and keep going with the wedding plans.”
“Okay, now that’s crazy,” Lexi said, annoyed with these people she’d never met.
“Right?” He laughed. “What a joy to get an amen on that. Thank you! I thought I was going out of my mind. But the real truth was… I wasn’t even that angry with Emily for sleeping with Scott. It only made me see I didn’t care enough. But I couldn’t say that.”
“Haha, what a dilemma!” Lexi finished her coffee. “I can’t marry her, but not because I’m mad that she cheated on me, but because her cheating made me realize I don’t love her.”
“Shouldn’t I have been at least a little jealous?”
“If you slept with someone else, I’d really be pissed off, and we haven’t even had a real first date yet!”
Lexi turned to gape at him. “Wait, what?”
“Well, I would.” He looked at her. “Why? Are you planning to?”
“No.” She felt all warm and smiley from his strange comment. “Not at all.”
“Good.” Kevin kissed her hand. “Oh, to finish the sad saga… Emily stayed with Scott, got pregnant, and married him. I attended their wedding as did everyone I knew since I was born.”
“The awkwardness was only beginning. My sisters badgered me constantly about how that could have been me, and they told me so, I should have waited, forgiven her, on and on… one of them literally told me I had deprived our parents of a grandchild with Emily.” Kevin glanced at Lexi. “Can you believe this insanity?”
She blew out a breath, trying to see it from their point of view. “From all that you’ve said, I have to think that they were just being honest. They probably assumed you loved Emily and had given up without a fight, and in their annoying way were counseling you not to do that again. You didn’t actually tell them you never loved her and were just going along with other people’s dreams, did you?”
“You’re right. I didn’t say that. I wouldn’t have.”
“It seems unnecessarily hurtful.”
“Yes. Let them believe I’m an idiot instead.” They both laughed.
“Siblings tend to think they know best for us,” Lexi said. “I am guilty of a bit of this.”
That’s very kind and diplomatic of you.” He nodded. “I’m going to try to look at it that way. I haven’t broken off all contact with them, but it’s minimal, and I know they’re hurt by my abrupt departure. And to be fair, all three of them apologized in a group chat recently for being so hard on me, begging me to come home this Christmas.”
“Aww, see… they still love and care about you!” Lexi was glad the sisters finally came around for Kevin, even if late.
“Yeah, though I could have used their support at the time.” He shook his head. “I hung around for a while after the wedding and baby, but then I… found a headhunter and she got me the hotel manager job out here.”
“I can’t say I’m sorry about that,” Lexi said softly. “I don’t know what I would have done without you tonight. I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Me too.” Kevin checked the map. “We’re getting close. There’s a rest stop in five miles. It’s almost midnight.”
“I hope… I don’t know what I’m hoping,” she confessed. “That we find him or not.”
“I know what you mean.”
[to be continued]
Image credit Pexels and Pixabay.
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