"Don't come to the party if you can't be civil," his brother warned. "We want you there, but this is Amanda's party and I won't have you making a scene."
Kevin sighed into the phone and ran a hand through his hair. He wanted to go the party, he did. His sister-in-law, Amanda, was terrific. It was her thirty-fifth birthday party, sort of a landmark, he thought. But ... but, but, but ... Lana would be there and that made him hesitate.
"You still there?" Steve asked. He had a general idea of what was running through Kevin's head. Kevin and Lana had seemed all but perfect together, when suddenly it had all blown up. It was Kevin's fault, even he would admit it. Lana had been pretty close-mouthed about the whole thing. She wouldn't talk about how she was hurting, although Steve knew she had to be.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm here." Kevin sighed again. He had to go, this was ridiculous. He was thirty-one years old. He could handle a party with his ex in attendance. "I'll come, and I'll behave, I promise. If it feels like I can't, then ... then I'll just leave or something." He paused. "Is Amanda still mad at me?" Amanda was Lana's best friend, and relations between Kevin and Amanda had been tense following the breakup.
"It's fading, but yeah, I think she still is, a bit," said Steve. "But she won't say anything, you know that. She won't want to upset Lana."
"Upset her?" Kevin's voice was laced with sudden suspicion. "Why would anything upset her?"
Steve cursed under his breath, nearly stamping his foot in his irritation. He hadn't meant to say that. "You know what I mean," he said. "Amanda wouldn't want Lana to feel bad, so she won't say anything about it."
"Okay." Kevin wasn't entirely convinced by his brother's explanation, but didn't have time to press him on it. "Look, I have to go, lunch is over and I'm due in a meeting."
"Oh, sorry, didn't mean to keep you," said Steve. "So, it's Saturday at eight o'clock. Amanda won't count you late unless you come after nine." Everyone knew Kevin wasn't the most punctual of people, despite his best efforts.
Kevin sighed internally. Lana had accepted his perpetual lateness, and even found subtle ways to improve it. They'd arrived on time at his parents' for dinner once and surprised them no end. His mother, targeting dinner for Kevin's expected arrival, had been speechless until Lana had laughed and presented her with a platter of crackers and cheese. Lana always thought of everything.
"Right, eight o'clock," he said. "See you then." He closed the cell phone and headed back to his desk to grab the materials for his meeting. The meeting was sure to be dull, but perhaps it would keep his mind off of what he now realized had been a huge mistake.
"Ready to go, Lana?" Tom's voice came from the front room.
"Just about," she called back. She slid into her shoes—low-heeled black pumps; she had no desire to go tripping over anything—and took a last look in the mirror. Her dark hair was kept back with a silver headband, and she decided her make up was adeqate. It made her look a bit less pale, anyway. She straightened her dress, put in her earrings and stepped into the hallway.
"You sure you want to go?" Tom asked, concerned. She'd been out of the hospital for two weeks, but he thought she still looked a little frail. "I'm sure Steve and Amanda would understand. I mean, you've been under some stress and you know he'll be there."
"It's all right, really," she said softly, giving him a small smile. "I'm going to run into Kevin at some point, anyway. At least there it's on fairly neutral turf. It's been, what, four weeks now?" Despite her easy tone, Tom knew she was still hurting over the whole thing.
"Just take it easy," Tom said. "And I'm driving," he added, using his 'don't argue with me' tone.
Lana laughed. "I am allowed to drive now, you know. The doctor said it was okay."
"Cut me a break, I'm trying to be chivalrous." He opened the door for her with a flourish. Lana laughed again.
They were companionably quiet on the way to the party. Tom wasn't sure what he thought about this. His first meeting with Kevin hadn't gone well; in fact, that was when Kevin had broken up with Lana, something she obviously hadn't been expecting.
Tom had just arrived back home from his deployment to the Middle East a few weeks before, and after leaving the service, decided to spend some time visiting Lana, his oldest friend, after a stop off at home with his parents. Lana had been thrilled. They'd been close friends since they were kids, living next door to each other until his father had been transferred to a town a few hours away. Email and cell phones made staying in touch easier, and they'd managed to keep their friendship going through high school, college and beyond.
A few years after college, they'd tried dating. It seemed the natural thing, after all the time they'd spent together. From the first awkward kiss, they knew it wouldn't work. Tom's deployment schedule hadn't helped. Luckily, they'd been able to laugh about it and remain best friends.
He and Lana hadn't talked about it, but Tom remembered how Kevin had misread their relationship. They had arranged to meet up with Kevin, Steve and Amanda for dinner. Tom had been looking forward to meeting them after hearing so much about them all in Lana's emails and phone calls. As soon as they'd met outside the restaurant, it had all gone wrong. He hadn't seen Kevin since and that was probably for the best, since initially he'd been so mad he'd wanted to beat the man to a pulp.
"Nervous?" Tom glanced at Lana.
"A little, I guess," she said, leaning her head back against the seat. "But there isn't much to say. And there will be plenty of other people."
She was remembering that same night. She'd been so happy to see Tom again, after not seeing him for over two years. She'd told Kevin about him, of course—how could you tell not tell your boyfriend about your best friend? Kevin had seemed to enjoy the stories she'd told her, and even said he was a little jealous not to have had such a friend himself.
Four weeks ago
Lana was excited as she and Tom walked over to meet Kevin and his brother and Amanda. It would be wonderful to have so many of her favorite people together. When they came up to the others, howver, Kevin's eyes turned cold and angry. Lana didn't understand why and looked at him apprehensively. Steve and Amanda greeted Tom warmly, but Kevin just stared silently.
"What's this?" Kevin said, his voice tense.
"What's what?" Lana asked, puzzled. "This is my friend, Tom. I've told you all about him."
"Do you always hang on your friend like that?" There was an angry sneer in his voice.
Lana was still a bit confused. She had her arm linked through Tom's, but that was all. "Kevin, what's going on? What's wrong?"
"Geez, Lana, if you're going to see someone else, at least keep it discreet." His eyes bored into her.
"Kevin, I don't know what you think is going on." She couldn't keep the confusion out of her voice. "Tom's my oldest friend, he's home from the service like I told you, and that's it."
"Please," said Kevin. "Anyone can see this is more than that." He rolled his eyes.
"Kevin, what the hell is wrong with you?" said Steve. He couldn't understand Kevin's behavior, either, and he didn't like how it was affecting Lana. Amanda and Lana were best friends, and Steve had developed a soft spot for her himself.
"Nothing," Kevin said calmly, though his voice was still dark. "But I'm not going to stay here while my girlfriend waves her new guy around in front of me."
"I'm not waving anyone around." Lana was getting angry herself. Where in God's name had all of this come from? "He's my oldest friend, for crying out loud."
"That's your story and you're sticking to it, I'm sure." Kevin's voice was cold.
Lana took a deep breath. "Look, why don't we start over? Obviously something went very wrong here. Let's go inside, order some wine and dinner and try it all again." She was embarrassed that Tom had to see this. She glanced over to see a mixture of confusion and anger on his face.
"You guys go on," said Kevin, "but I'm done here." He looked at Lana. "We're done. I can see I've already been replaced."
Then Lana understood. "Go on, then," she said. "But before you go thinking you're taking the high road, you should know—I knew the whole time!" Shock registered on Kevin's face. Lana continued, her hands shaking, her voice low, her fury obvious. "Next time you want to keep a secret, don't leave your damn emails up on the screen for anyone to see." She turned to Steve and Amanda, apologized, and she and Tom left.
It had taken a few days for the whole story to come out, at least Lana's side of it. Kevin had cheated on her, and she had discovered it when she went to her computer and found several open emails. She hadn't said anything, and although Tom understood her reasoning, he didn't entirely agree. She had thought about it, she told him, but wasn't sure what to say. For some reason, perhaps just blind love, she had decided to see what happened, trusting that Kevin would end the affair. In fact, he did, but the damage had been done.
That must have been hellish, Tom thought. Both of them knowing about the affair, but neither saying anything. The proverbial elephant in the room. Lana hadn't confronted Kevin—she never was much for that, Tom knew—nor had Kevin admitted anything. Tom's guess was that the guilt had eaten at him, and Kevin turned it around on Lana when he had the chance.
.... There is more of this story ...