Tristan left Quinn’s house with laser focus. Only when a pointed rock jabbed at the fleshy underside of his foot at the end of her driveway did he realize that he was still holding his shoes. Tristan hobbled down the sidewalk not coming to a complete stop and hopped on one foot as he slipped each shoe over his feet. Walking as fast as he could nearly to the point of jogging, Tristan considered the difference. It must be that a walk always has at least one foot on the ground, and a jog requires both feet to lift off the ground if only for a second. Either way, it didn’t matter to Tristan. He was walking on air as he felt the wind hit the sweat beads forming on his forehead. He could have gone for miles and miles with the same focus and determination. But once he reached the end of the block, Tristan made an abrupt halt. Sure, he could go for miles and miles, but to where? Tristan realized that he did not know where he was going. He looked back at Quinn’s house and saw he was three blocks away from her now. I must have been so focused, I didn’t realize I was crossing the street. Twice. The thought of death by car brushed against the back of his head, but he focused on figuring out where to go now. Kadwalloper, of course.
Tristan turned around. He realized he would have to go back the other way to get to Kadwalloper’s store. If he’s even there right now. The road he had just walked down in mere minutes now looked utterly arduous. And I’ll have to cross Quinn’s again. Considering this path, Tristan remembered how abruptly he had vacated. No reason why. No goodbye. Just more talk about Emily again. He felt ashamed for putting Quinn in the middle of things again. He had no intention of it this time. I really was going to stay there with her. It was that commercial. But what was he about to say before the commercial? He remembered saying “I love… Kadwalloper.” Was he really going to say “I love you” to Quinn? Was he just going to say “I love spending time with you?” Was the “I love you” from a romantic place? Tristan considered the answers to these questions as he decided to circumvent Quinn’s place and go around to the other side of her block before heading backwards. Nothing in his head reared towards any conclusive answer. He did love Quinn. It’d be impossible not to. And she had always been there for him. But wasn’t it all out of friendship? Considering the notion in high school, Tristan read the signs. Quinn never seemed open to adding that element into their friendship. Ever since she moved back, he figured nothing had changed.
But things had changed. He had gone through a lot, and Quinn was always right by his side no matter what, until she wasn’t, until they had gotten into that big argument. That time was a real hell for Tristan who had no one to turn to. Quinn was his person he could always turn to when Emily wasn’t there. Was I just using her? He shifted his train of thought and decided he should look both ways before he crossed the next intersection.
Without his phone in his pocket, Tristan had no idea how long he’d been walking. But he knew where he was and where the store was. That was his goal. Get to the store. Meet with Kadwalloper. Get Emily back. And, and this was a new point he’d arrived at while walking, lift the burden from Quinn.
Finally, Tristan reached Kota Avenue, the main business district which ran straight through the length of the town. Not knowing which direction to go or for how far, Tristan resorted to going into a store and asking for help. He looked up at the window signs telling him his immediate options. The first option looked like an old-fashioned barber shop. The second option was a nail salon. The third option was a pet store. Because he was allergic to cats, Tristan avoided PetsWorld. He looked through the glass of the nail salon and saw ten or so Asian people working vigorously on customer hands and feet. He thought best not to bother them. So, he went up to the barbershop and opened the door.
A bell chimed at his entrance. Two couches sat against each side of the window fronts for waiting patrons. The barbers worked out in the open with no main counter or podium, just black and white linoleum flooring. Four spots lined the side of the walls, each one consisting of a chair, a small counter with a sink for washing hair, and a mirror above the sink.
“Good afternoon,” a voice greeted Tristan, although he did not pinpoint to which barber the voice belonged. “What can we cut for you today?”
“Oh, um.” Tristan felt bad to give the jolly voice such disappointing news. “I actually just need some directions, please.”
One barber on the right wall turned around and looked at Tristan. He seemed to be in his sixties, tan, and completely bald, although Tristan couldn’t tell if it was by choice, genetics, or both. The only hair Tristan could see was white as snow and contrasting to his brown, almost burnt, complexion. His forearms were thick rainforests of white hair. Tristan almost couldn’t tell where the man’s arms ended and his white uniform began. Then there was the man’s mustache, a white, majestic walrus mustache, hanging thick and bushy over the man’s mouth and the sides of his chin. Tristan thought he and the other barbers must moonlight in a quartet when the shop closes.
“How far down is, er, Kadwalloper Lighting? And which way is it?” Tristan asked.
“Ah, the fella needs some lights. Oh boy, gee…Rick, you know where ol’ Kadwalloper’s is? Is that by Mart’s Grocery Mart?” the mustache man replied first to Tristan then turned to ask a barber across the room.
Rick turned around and faced Tristan. About the same height as the other barber, Rick’s similarities ended there. His jet-black hair consumed his face in a wild, mountain man beard that almost connected to his bushy caterpillar eye brows.
“Nah, Norm. You’re thinking of Lights By Fred. Kaddy’s place is the other way. About three blocks left outside these doors.” Rick looked right at Tristan. “You’ll come across a guy dressed up as a green dinosaur. He might berate you to go into his store, but he’s harmless. Your destination is on the other side of him.”
“Ok, thank you. Both of you.” Tristan replied and nodded his head at Rick then Norm, both of whom nodded back.
As he was turning around to head back out, Tristan caught sight of the patron in Rick’s chair. The patron met eyes with Tristan. Lights went off in both of their heads as their eyes got wider. Brock was the first one to speak.
“Hey Tristan! How’s it going man?”
Tristan hoped they would have just nodded to each other. “Oh, ya know.”
“That’s awesome. Yo. Emily loved your book man.”
“Oh? Thanks. Glad to hear.” Tristan heard the words after they left his mouth, and he gave Brock a crooked, toothy smile.
“Okay, now let’s get a nice, smooth face for your bride tomorrow.” Rick said to Brock with a cup of shaving cream in one hand and a brush in the other.
“See ya, bro.” Brock shouted as Rick turned the chair around.
“See ya.” Tristan replied softly as he too turned around and exited the store, the bell chime masking his farewell.
Tristan headed down the street the way Rick told him too, but he lost that spring in his step. Rick’s last words hung overhead in Tristan’s mind. “Your bride tomorrow.” Could that be right? Was Emily getting married tomorrow? As in the day after today? Tristan’s heart raced although his feet barely moved. He looked up at another three blocks ahead of him. This time he couldn’t wait to get to his destination. He couldn’t wait to see Kadwalloper. There was no time to wait about anything. There was no time at all for anything anymore except for Emily. How could he pull this off on time? Would it not work once they were married? Would what not work? Tristan asked himself. He didn’t even know what Kadwalloper was supposedly going to do to get Emily and Tristan back together and to get her away from Brock.
His mind boiled over with questions. Why was Brock so nice back there? Was he just acting because other people were around? Did Emily tell him to be nice? He said she’d liked the book. He probably made her stay home. He’s the reason she didn’t show up. She liked the book, she’d wanted to come. But Brock wouldn’t let her. Then he acted friendly to throw me off. What an ass.
Whatever Kadwalloper could do, Tristan knew it had to be done immediately. Tristan’s pace increased as his fast walk became a jog weaving in between scattered shoppers on the sidewalks. As if fate were on his side, he didn’t have to stop for the traffic lights. The pedestrian signs flashed as he came upon them and kept his pace.
Tristan thought he could see that dinosaur man in the distance and knew he was getting close. As his eyes focused in on the person standing in the middle of the sidewalk, he realized it wasn’t a dinosaur man. It wasn’t a man at all. It was Quinn. Quinn stood with her arms crossed right in front of Kadwalloper, right in front of him getting Emily back.
Tristan slowed down and bent over to catch his breath. Between each deep breath, Tristan spoke to Quinn. “What…are you…doing…here? How…did you…know?”
“That stupid commercial. You ran out because of it. I figured you must be headed here since you don’t have your phone or keys or wallet with you. Here’s your phone, but the rest of your stuff is at the bookstore.” Quinn handed Tristan his phone.
Grabbing the phone from her and standing up to face her, Tristan replied, “So you’ve just been waiting here for me?”
“Yea. I really need to tell you something.”
“Well, can it wait please? I have to hurry.”
“Tristan, I really need to talk with you. I have something I need to tell you. A couple things. Just please, before you run off and chase Emily, just hear me out.”
“Quinn, I know I’ve been kinda using you lately. I really do apologize for that, but once Emily and I are back together, that’ll stop.”
“You keep saying it like it is a sure thing.”
“Well it will be.” Tristan replied too fervently.
“How do you know?” Quinn pressed.
“I just do.”
“Well did you know she’s getting married tomorrow?” Quinn attacked.
“Yea I do now. That’s why I need to hurry Quinn. Time’s up.” Tristan parried.
“You’re right Tristan. Time is up. So let me just say my peace, and you can go.”
“Fine Quinn. What? What do you have to say?”
“I…” Quinn closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She opened her eyes staring into Tristan’s and said, “I love you. As more than a friend.”
Tristan opened his mouth to respond, but Quinn continued. Tristan strained to take it all in.
“I have for a really long time. And I wish you would just be with me. But if she’s who you want, then I understand and I’ll move on. Although I think it’s really freaking dumb to keep chasing a girl who doesn’t love you back when you have a girl who has loved you since she was little.”
Quinn took another deep breath, chuckling slightly as she shook her head.
“I can’t keep waiting, thinking you’ll change your mind or realize what we have or could have. I’m telling you now. I love you. You’re my best friend. You helped give me the confidence to stand up for myself in the face of others, but I never could confront you. Until now. I always just want what’s best for you.”
Tristan watched the tears form in Quinn’s eyes as she paused and looked away from him for the first time since she started speaking. Then she met his gaze once again and continued.
“But it’s been hard on me, especially lately. So, I gotta tell you, I’m the one who called Z Publishing. I told them to option your book. I just wanted to do something to pick you up. But now they want me back, and I want to go back. I’m going back to New York.”
Tristan, literally taken aback by those words, took a step back and broke their gaze.
“But I won’t. I’ll stay here. I’ll tell Laurie no. If you tell me you love me too, if you think that somewhere all this time you knew that Emily wasn’t the one for you, that we are supposed to be together, then, I will stay. I will stay and be with you. But if you don’t love me like that, I’ll understand. I just need to get away from you and get away from what I am becoming while being around you. So, there it is. I know for a fact that Emily is getting married tomorrow. I know that she and Brock are totally in love. I know that I am totally in love with you. That’s all I know.”
Tristan watched the tears form and flow down Quinn’s cheeks as she spoke, her voice cracking as she went. When she stopped talking, she wiped the tears from her face.
Tristan knew he needed to be in this minute and respond thoughtfully to Quinn’s proposition. But his mind wandered back to Kadwalloper. Was he even at the store? If not, how would he contact Kadwalloper before tomorrow?
“Stop!” Tristan spoke to himself out loud. He squeezed his eyes and saw the white flashes against his eyelids. “Just hold on.”
Quinn didn’t move.
“I mean, this is…wild. What am I supposed to do here? You’re honestly ripping my brain in two right now. I’ve gotta do this first Quinn. I want to think about what you told me, but…”
Quinn stood there nodding her head and wiping away more tears.
“I just really wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t try everything.” Tristan looked at the words “Kadwalloper Lighting” on the glass doors as he spoke. “If she marries him tomorrow, then I’m done. I’ll concede. But I just gotta know.”
“Tristan, do you think this was easy for me? It’s not like I knew spilling my heart out to you would pay off. Love is not a sure thing. You just gotta take a risk.”
“You don’t think I’ve made risks? Sacrifices for my love? I wouldn’t be doing all of this if it wasn’t for love. But I’m at my whit’s end. Now’s my time to bet on a sure thing.”
“But I’m right…”
“Just give me two hours. Give me some time to think it over. Is that…is that fair?”
Quinn paused in consideration, “Yea. I guess it is. I’m going to the bookstore. Let me know by six.”
“I don’t have a watch.”
“It’s four now.”
“Okay. I will.”
Tristan watched Quinn get back into her car and turned around to face the store. He walked up to the door. On the right side of the store, Tristan saw the reflection of Quinn in her car, her head resting on the steering wheel. On the left side of the store he could see through the window to a man in a black suit. Kadwalloper stood a foot away from the window looking back at Tristan with a smile as he pointed to an invisible watch on his wrist. Tristan opened the door and walked into the store, the countless chandeliers hanging from the ceiling blinding his vision.