Lucas was tired. In fact, he was fairly certain that he was more tired than he’d ever been in his entire life.
He still worked 40 hours a week (sometimes more) at his job with the catering company.
He still spent much of his free time working on his research for Evelyn.
And now, on top of everything else, there was something new: Melanie.
It started that Saturday afternoon at the park with his friends. Lucas had been a bit wary, at first. He knew Melanie would get along with the girls well enough, but Noah and Sam sometimes had a tendency to come on a bit strong when you first meet them…
To his delight, they seemed to get along right away.
The next weekend, Melanie had invited him to check out the new exhibition they’d opened at the museum. Lucas had never been much of an art lover, but it was something new and different, so he decided Why not?
After feigning interest for a little while, the pair had eventually ended up on one of the benches outside, giggling to themselves about some of the more unusual “works of art” that had been on display.
A few days later, while his parents were away at work, Lucas invited Melanie over for lunch. He cooked her some of the salmon he’d caught the day before, and laughed as she shared the story of the time she and Christian had nearly burned their house down trying to make French toast.
When they’d finished their meal, Melanie told him it was one of the best meals she’d ever had.
Melanie seemed nervous when she introduced Lucas to her friend Faith for the first time, though he could not understand why. They met up at the neighborhood pool one sunny afternoon, and Lucas had a fun time getting to know the bubbly (though somewhat ditzy) girl.
She had a great sense of humor, and Lucas loved seeing the way Melanie lit up when her friend was around.
As the weeks passed, Lucas and Melanie began seeing each other more and more frequently, oftentimes in the company of their friends.
One afternoon, Sam had called, inviting the pair to go see a movie at the new outdoor theater. It was a movie neither of Lucas nor Melanie had ever heard of, and they were interested to see if it was any good.
Unfortunately, they got a bit too carried-away talking to actually pay attention to the film…
The weather got steadily warmer as Spring carried on, and Lucas and Melanie began frequenting the local park during their time together. The first afternoon they’d gone there, Melanie challenged Lucas to a game of chess at one of the outdoor tables. He eagerly accepted.
She beat him… Twice. “I was just going easy on you.” He gave a small shrug. “I totally let you win.” (He didn’t).
Sometimes, Melanie would tag along while Lucas tended to his garden, or tried a new fishing spot. Lucas enjoyed these quiet moments together, when neither of them said very much and they could just enjoy the fresh air and good company.
Melanie had tried asking a few times about this mysterious ‘recipe’ that had led to his interest in fishing and gardening. Lucas’ replies were always cryptic and vague, but she never pushed the issue, something which he appreciated greatly.
As Laura’s due date drew closer and closer, Lucas was happy to hear that Sam seemed to be picking up more and more standup gigs around town. Lucas and Melanie (along with his other friends too) were front and center for Sam’s big debut at the lounge downtown.
Unfortunately their friend didn’t manage to draw a very big crowd, so Lucas and Melanie made up for it by laughing and cheering as loudly as they could.
Sam was not the only one of Lucas’ friends to find recent success in his career. After weeks and weeks of hearing her job-related woes, Lucas was delighted to get an excited phone call one afternoon from an over-joyed Melanie, who had been given her well-deserved raise at last. He took her out for drinks to celebrate.
But of course, as usual, “out for drinks” quickly dissolved into “people watching and sharing funny stories”, which Lucas preferred much more.
Melanie had been looking forward to meeting Lucas’ parents for quite some time. A week or two after their first meeting, Lucas was surprised and amused to discover that one of Melanie’s favorite authors was none other than his own mother (“No way! Your mom’s Becca Ainsworth?” She’d asked, amazed. “I thought it was weird that you had the same last name…”). On the afternoon that they finally met, Lucas and his father watched in amusement as the two women delved into a huge discussion of the theme of his mother’s latest novel, and Melanie begged for hints about the fate of her favorite character in the upcoming sequel.
“Do you think she’ll sign one of her books if I bring it over next time?” Melanie had whispered as he walked her to the door. Lucas simply rolled his eyes, choking back a laugh.
Just as she’d been anxious to meet his family, Lucas was excited to finally meet Melanie’s brother Sean, who worked for the local police department and was hoping to become a detective one day. He had Lucas and Melanie over for dinner one night, and shared many fascinating stories from the field.
Hearing them made Lucas almost feel like a kid again, engrossed in a new detective mystery.
“You never told me your brother was so cool!” He’d told Melanie afterwards.
“You’re adorable.” Melanie had replied, giggling.
“Hey, at least I didn’t ask for an autograph!”
So the months had seemed to fly by. And though it was true that Lucas felt more tired than he’d ever been in his life, he also realized that he’d never been happier either.
Even Evelyn had noticed.
Somehow, on top of everything else, Lucas still managed to visit with her one or two nights a week (though, painful as it was to admit, it had begun to feel like a chore more than anything else).
“You’ve been in quite a mood lately.” She’d laughed. “And I mean that in a good way.”
“Heh, yeah…” Lucas shrugged, laughing uncomfortably. “I’ve been doing what you said… Slowing down a little, spending more time with my friends…” Of course, he neglected to specify which friends he was talking about.
Lucas still could not bring himself to tell Evelyn about Melanie. I’m being stupid. He’d often tried to tell himself. Mel’s just a friend. It’s not like it’s a big deal. Yet every time the opportunity came up, Lucas never took the chance. In fact, he’d even taken great care to ensure that Melanie never stayed at his house past sundown, for fear that the two women’s paths would cross.
But why? He’d often asked himself. Of course, there was a part of him, hidden deep down, that knew the answer. Lucas did everything in his power to silence it.
“Well I’m glad.” Evelyn told him. “It’s nice to see you happy again.” She stroked his cheek gently, then pulled him in for a close embrace.
“I know it’s still not easy.” She said softly in his ear. “And I know you’re still working your butt off for me…” He could hear her smile in her voice. “So thanks… For not giving up.”
“Of course not.” Lucas said, pulling away from her. “Never.”
As he headed back inside, Lucas felt a familiar wave of guilt and nervousness wash over him. How much longer are you planning on keeping this up? The tiny voice in the back of his mind asked.
As always, he left the question unanswered.