Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow
Kelvin and I should have been best friends. We had many of the same cultural interests and thought in similar ways about similar things. Whenever we were around each other, we got along despite some pretty long odds at times. But while we were friends and still are by the Facebook metric, we never got too close for one major reason: Evangeline.
Kelvin and Evangeline were best friends dating back to Thessolonica High School and there was always the air of more being possible and the frustration of both never being in the same place (emotionally) for it to happen. Ultimately, he became The Friend (in the LJBF manner) with just enough romantic tension (and not just in one direction) to make the friendship uncomfortable at times.
When Eva and I first started hashing things out, she described the various men in her life past and current. When I was looking for potential threats, I looked right past him. I saw him as very little or no threat. The threat I saw, and which was realized was Jason, an ex-boyfriend with whom she never reached closure. As it turned out, when I entered the picture, Kelvin thought the same as me. He was an editor at the Daily Packer, where I was a columnist, and we’d met on a couple of occasions. We both thought to ourselves, I can out-do that chump.
When we met again through Eva, he and I both got along in a mutually condescending sort of way but found ourselves genuinely friends before too long. He made his play for Eva, just as I expected him to, and things didn’t work out for him. I made my play and things blew up in my face as well as he doubtlessly expected. We both knew we were temporarily out of luck when Jason re-emerged, but both waited on the sidelines, friendly as ever, for that to blow up in her face. When it did, it was game-on again.
When Evangeline and I were an us, he could not have been more gracious about it. He waited in the wings dating enough not to be seen as pathetic but seemingly purposefully avoiding anything that he couldn’t get out of at a moment’s notice if he got his shot. I knew what he was doing and I really didn’t care. I knew that Evangeline and I were meant to be together. I also felt, just as he did, that if for whatever reason we were wrong, the By Gawd we hoped that she ended up with the other. We just really liked one another.
When things with Evangeline completely collapsed, she was with Vince, I needed to have absolutely nothing to do with her, and he waited for things with Vince to similarly collapse. I was out of the game at that point. I hired Kelvin to edit my novel and he and I stayed in touch in a way that I refused to with her. Finally, things with Vince did erode and it was, once and for all, Kelvin’s turn.
Then, in an inexplicable way that I still cannot justify, I ruined everything. She was, from my perspective, resigning herself to him. If she was serious about Kelvin, I was prepared to respect that. But while she and he were finally taking the steps they had waited years to, she was inexplicably hanging out with me. Ostensibly, she was helping me figure things out with Dharla, Meghan, or whomever I was thinking about at the time. But… having finally gotten some of that time together that she almost never gave me when we were actually together, things started falling into place as I believed they would if we could ever just get beyond ourselves.
The only thing missing was my heart. I had burned so many times with her that I maintained a guarded pose. I couldn’t let myself go or even explore what was going on (and therefore remained fixed on someone else so unimportant I can’t even remember who they were anymore. She said that she was okay with that and I said that I believed her (after all, she wasn’t saying anything either). And then she cheated on her best friend since high school and I betrayed one of the guys that I held in a level of esteem higher than almost any other. At this point he was reluctant to let his own guard down and by day she tried to pry him open so that she could just get the Permanent Relationship thing done with. At night she was hanging out with me.
The important thing about that period, as far as Evangeline and I were concerned, was all that was left unsaid. We didn’t talk about our failed relationship. She didn’t tell me how sorry she was that things didn’t work out. I didn’t tell her how furious I was with her at all that we had been through and how I blamed her for the vast majority of it. She talked about her work. I talked about my work. She talked about Kelvin. I talked about… whoever. We watched movies. We went out and had coffee. It was like an emaculate room made so by everything being stored, top to bottom, in a closet that nobody dared open for fear that gravity would bring everything tumbling down. I still don’t know how we managed such extraordinary cognitive dissonance. It, like a whole lot of things happening at the time, was completely unlike us both individually or together.
It eventually became too obvious that nothing was going anywhere. We could either confront everything we had been ignoring and watch everything collapse all over again or we could just let things slide indefinitely and prevent either of us from getting on with our lives. It came to a head when she had a pregnancy scare. Even that became absurdly simplified. If she was pregnant, we would partner up because we had to. No discussion was required. Ideal. She wasn’t, of course, and was (it seemed to me) disproportionately distraught over this. It became impossible to see one another without having to hash something out, so we stopped seeing one another. She stopped coming around and I stopped calling her and when we bumped into one another at a music show they were kissing and so that was that. I was cautiously happy for him.
Then, many moons later, word got to her that I was getting married and she felt the sudden need to reach closure with me. To be honest, she was one of the ghosts living in the back of my mind. Unresolved issues with Tracey played a significant role in my failure with Julianne. I could sense some of the same insecurities (questions like “Am I only with Clancy because Evangeline said no?”) at play. So for me, it was the opportunity to clean out that closet. With Clancy, it was important to in a way that it hadn’t been before Maybe, in a best case scenario, she would admit that she was wrong and stupid and I would be magnanimous and we could maintain a friendship and all that happened between us would not all be wrong. And that chapter of my life would finally be closed and not a minute too soon. That was what I was looking for. Ostensibly, she was looking for the same. But shortly after we cleared the air, her goal shifted. She was looking prevent my wedding from occurring.
Long story short, she failed. Telling the one person that had up until that point had near-complete power over me “no” took a lot out of me. I wasn’t even able to enjoy getting the upper hand. I wasn’t able to appreciate that, howevermuch I left her with him, I had destroyed Kelvin’s relationship with the love of his life. They hobbled on, but it was hard to imagine them ever rebounding when, in the midst of their relationship, she had decided that somebody else was her soulmate. That the other guy decided otherwise was somewhat beside the point.
Several months later, Evangeline emailed me letting me know how things were between she and Kelvin. To no great surprise, things were not going well. They were, in my estimation, terminally bad. There was also this guy at the theater that she kinda-sorta liked. She asked me what she should do. It took me little time to reply “It doesn’t matter what you do. It’s over. It never was.” Just as she and I never was. Not really.
And with that, I twisted the knife. Kelvin was relegated to the dustbin. I would like to say that I did it as much for him as for her because he was better off in a dead end of a relationship with someone that had never emotionally committed, but my primary loyalty was always to her. As was his. Never to one another. The only solace I can take in it all was that in the end he really was better off without her and that I’m really not sure he ever would have done differently if he had been in my shoes (and there is the distinct possibility that, at one point or another, he had).
I took a trip back to Colosse about six months later. Kelvin and I got together for some beer and live music. We talked about everything except the elephant in the room. Finally, he broke down and said “You heard what happened with Evangeline, right?” I broke down and started to apologize for everything I’d done, but he wouldn’t have any of it. “What else could you have done?”
That he could look at the situation with such a clear perspective was Kelvin to the core. The closing argument to the case that he deserved a lot better than he got from any of us.