1. REVAN—CHRISTMAS EVE 2018
Soft holiday music mixed with the laughter and lively banter among his closest friends, all lounging comfortably on the grouping of couches and chairs in front of a crackling fire. Hundreds of warm white lights wound through the decorated branches of the Christmas tree and reflected tenfold in the darkened windows. His friend and roommate, Stella, had done a nice job.
“You’re the perfect man for me.” Naomi’s purring voice reached his ear.
Revan sat up too fast, sloshing his red wine dangerously close to the rim of the glass. Man, those six words had crudely—and effectively—jolted him out of his semi-festive mood.
Just as he wanted to ask if she was delirious, her boyfriend said suggestively, “We’ll pick up right there later, baby doll,” before locking lips with her.
Revan walked to the French doors and switched on the outside light. Thick snowflakes drifted down in silence, accumulating quickly in the small backyard.
The last time they had a white Christmas in Philadelphia was almost ten years ago, and he vividly remembered it. It was the first winter after he and Luca bought this townhouse and renovated it top to bottom. Home improvement was now on the top of his list of things he never wanted to do again.
As a photojournalist, the tools of his trade were his cameras and accessories, and he’d gladly leave miter saws, drills and hammers to someone who knew what they were doing. Revan sipped more wine and perused the room, his attention moving from friend to friend.
Luca, his best friend since middle school. Their old motto—friends for life—came to mind. My buddy.
Stella—Luca’s sister, always kind and caring—and her boyfriend, David. Nice guy. Was in the doghouse for a year but found his way out a few months ago.
Naomi—his friend and the biggest thorn in his side lately—and her current boyfriend, Frank. Yeah…well, I’m not going there.
Josephine, Naomi’s cousin, and close friend of Stella’s. Good-natured, sometimes a bit spacey...but, so what?
Everybody who was important to him was here except his family, and he’d see his parents and sister tomorrow. Revan cringed, remembering his mother’s not-so-subtle inquiry earlier, “Can I add an extra place setting for a lady friend?” Which he answered as usual with, “No, Mom, that won’t be necessary.”
Revan heard the girls laughing. Of course he knew they were all women of thirty now, but in his mind they were forever thirteen.
As Stella’s BFF, Naomi was usually around when he visited Luca. Stella had always been quiet, but Naomi was a tomboy if he’d ever seen one. She popped up when he and Luca least expected her, wanting to know, “What are you doing? Can we hang out with you?”—which of course was out of question. There had been an insurmountable five-year age difference between them and the girls.
Through adolescence into adulthood they all developed a special connection—the kind of friendship where they were always there for each other, and he’d never do anything to break their bond.
He noticed Stella watching him intently, but before he could ask why, David’s voice interrupted his musings. “There is one more thing I want to do.”
All three women responded with a well-choreographed, “Ohhhh...”
Revan mumbled, “Are we in a Hallmark movie?”, which earned him a smack over his head from Naomi, followed by a snarky, “Stop being such a Grinch. Where’s your holiday cheer?”
He didn’t think she expected a reply and gave her a crooked smile instead.
David reached behind Stella and pulled something out from behind the cushions. “Sorry, my love, but you’re kind of sitting on it.”
“Neat hiding spot, man,” Luca laughed and rested his arm along the back of the sofa.
Revan almost choked on his wine when Jo immediately snuggled her head on Luca’s shoulder.
Thankfully, his buddy completely ignored her move. Yeah, Revan knew he could count on his friend to keep a cool head. They had made a pact after college to enjoy life and not get sucked into diamond-shopping and diaper duty for a long time—and nothing had changed.
At thirty-five, Revan planned to continue filling his life with challenging work and thrilling trips on his motorcycle. Throw in casual hookups with stimulating women, and he had everything he wanted.
But when he noticed Frank’s hand slide under Naomi’s shirt, his gut churned. He needed something stronger than wine and went to his well-stocked bar to find his favorite whiskey.
After pouring himself a generous amount, Revan rested his elbow on the fireplace mantel and studied the shades of amber in the lowball glass. He welcomed the fiery bite of the first sip sliding down his throat.
“Man, you’re quiet tonight.” Luca joined him. “Are you okay?”
“Just shit going through my mind. Don’t worry about me.” He held up the bottle and asked, “Want some?”
“Sure, hit me.” Luca grabbed a glass and held it out after adding an ice cube. “Things were getting a little too cozy over there on the sofa.”
“Yeah, I saw that. What’s going on with the girls?” Rev asked. “I get why Stella doesn’t let David out of her sight, but Naomi and Jo? Do they have a family bet going about who’s getting hitched first?”
“No idea,” Luca laughed and clinked his glass to Revan’s. “To independence, man!”
“And to freedom and happiness,” Revan replied.
When he looked up again, his and Naomi’s eyes met across the room. Something in the way she studied him made his knees go weak.
Forrester, a man’s knees don’t go weak. Maybe they’re being knocked out from under you, but they don’t go weak.