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See Me(6)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

Despite the requirements, despite having to deal with Margolis, who plainly itched to place him in handcuffs, it was a great deal. An unbelievable deal, and it was all thanks to his father… even if he and Colin had trouble speaking these days. Colin was technically banned from ever setting foot in the house again, though his dad had softened on that particular stance lately. Being permanently kicked out of the house after he’d returned from Arizona and then watching from the street as new owners took possession of the beach cottage had forced Colin to reevaluate his life. He’d ended up sleeping at friends’ places back in Raleigh, drifting from one couch to the next. Little by little, he’d come to the conclusion that if he didn’t change his life, he’d self-destruct entirely. The environment there wasn’t good for him, and his circle of friends was as out of control as he was. With nowhere else to go, he’d driven back to Wilmington and surprised himself by showing up at Evan’s door. Evan had been living there after graduating from North Carolina State and had been equally surprised to see his old friend. Cautious and a bit nervous, too, but Evan was Evan, and he had no problem with Colin staying at his place for a while.

It took some time to earn Evan’s trust again. By that point, their lives had diverged. Evan was a lot more like Rebecca and Andrea, a responsible citizen whose only experience with jail was what he’d seen on television. He worked as an accountant and financial planner, and in keeping with the fiscally prudent ideals of his profession, he’d also purchased a house with a first-floor apartment and separate entrance to help lower his mortgage payments, an apartment that happened to be vacant when Colin had shown up. Colin hadn’t intended to stay long, but one thing led to another and when he’d gotten a job tending bar, he’d moved in downstairs for good. Three years later, he was still paying rent to the best friend he had in the world.

So far, it was working out well. He mowed the lawn and trimmed the bushes and paid a reasonable rent in return. He had his own space with his own entrance, but Evan was right there, too, and Evan was exactly what Colin needed in his life right now. Evan wore a suit and tie to work, he kept his tastefully decorated house spotless, and he never drank more than two beers when he went out. He was also just about the nicest guy in the world, and he accepted Colin, faults and all. And – for God knows what reason – he believed in him, even when Colin knew he didn’t always deserve it.

Lily, Evan’s fiancée, was pretty much cut from the same cloth. Though she worked in advertising and had her own condo at the beach – her parents had bought it for her – she spent enough time at Evan’s to have become an important part of Colin’s life. It had taken her a while to warm up to him – when they’d first met, Colin had been sporting a blond Mohawk and had piercings in both ears, and their initial conversation had centered around a bar fight in Raleigh where the other guy had ended up in the hospital. For a while, she simply couldn’t comprehend how Evan could ever be friends with him. A Charleston debutante who’d attended college at Meredith, Lily was prim and polite, and the phrases she used were a throwback to an earlier era. She was also just about the most drop-dead gorgeous girl Colin had ever seen, and it was no wonder that Evan was putty in her hands. With her blond hair and blue eyes and an accent that sounded like honey even when she was angry, she seemed like the last person in the world who would give Colin a chance. And yet, she had. And like Evan, she had eventually come to believe in him. It had been Lily who’d suggested that he start taking classes at the junior college two years ago, and it had been Lily who’d tutored him in the evenings. And on two separate occasions, it had been Lily and Evan who had kept Colin from making the kind of impulsive mistake that might have landed him in prison. He loved her for those things, just as he loved the relationship between her and Evan. He’d long since decided that if anyone ever threatened the two of them in any way, he would handle it, no matter what the consequences, even if it meant he’d have to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

But all good things come to an end. Isn’t that what people said? The life he’d lived for the last three years was going to change, if only because Evan and Lily were engaged, with plans for a spring wedding already in the works. While they’d both insisted that Colin could continue to live in the downstairs apartment after they were married, he also knew they’d spent the previous weekend walking through model homes in a subdivision closer to Wrightsville Beach, with homes that featured the kind of double porches common in Charleston. They both wanted kids, they both wanted the whole white-picket-fence thing, and Colin had no doubt that within a year, Evan’s current house would be for sale. After that, Colin would be on his own again, and while he knew it wasn’t fair to expect Evan and Lily to be responsible for him, he sometimes wondered whether they were aware of how important they’d become to him in the last few years.

Like tonight, for instance. He hadn’t asked Evan to come to the fight; that had been Evan’s idea. Nor had he asked Evan to sit with him while he ate. But Evan probably suspected that had he not done those things, Colin might have ended up at a bar instead of the diner, unwinding with shots instead of midnight breakfast. And though Colin worked as a bartender, being on the other side of the bar didn’t exactly work for him these days.

Finally exiting the highway, Colin steered onto a winding county road, loblolly pine and red oak mingling on either side, kudzu playing no favorites between the two. It was less a shortcut than an attempt to avoid an endless series of stoplights. Lightning continued to strike, turning the clouds silver and illuminating the surroundings in otherworldly strobes. The rain and wind intensified, the wipers barely keeping the windshield clear, but he knew this road well. He eased into one of its many blind curves before instinctively stomping on the brakes.

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