Chapter 1

"Excuse me ma'am, but a man over at the bar would like to buy you a drink", the polite waiter stated simply.

Ugh, Arianell thought, not this again. Arianell had lost 25 pounds over the summer and ever since then she had been plagued by smarmy men who wanted her number or to buy her a drink. Having never been on a single date in her entire 23 years on earth, she was quite unaccustomed with her newfound popularity.

Turning from her group of friends to the waiter, she replied, "Please tell the man, 'no thank you', but do get me another ginger ale, on my own tab, thanks." Arianell started to turn her attention back to the conversation at the table, but the waiter again interrupted her.

"Ma'am, the man seemed quite adamant that he be able to purchase your drinks, in fact, he wants to cover your entire tab. Maybe it would be best if you went over and talked to him."

"Fine!," she cut in. Arianell could not believe the audacity of some men, but decided that the only way to get this particular cretin off her back was to confront him face to face, and she started to follow the waiter to the bar.

As she stomped towards a row of turned backs at the bar she noticed that none of them looked particularly creepy and her fears began to lessen. As if sensing her approach, one man started to turn and it made Arianell nervous.

"Arianell? I thought it was you!" said the man.

"K-Kevin! Kevin Luper? Oh my goodness! How are you?" Arianell stammered. She couldn't believe that this was the man who wanted to buy her drinks. This wasn't just any man - Kevin Luper was a friend from her freshman year at college, a man she had harbored a crush for since the very day they had met. Kevin Luper was also the new star pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, a celebrity in his own right.

"Wow! Nelly, you look great! I hope that I didn't break up a party over there but I had to know if it was you or not." As Kevin spoke these words to Arianell he ran his eyes over her body.

He couldn't believe that the vixen standing in front of him really was Arianell. In college she was his best friend and confidant. He had always found her quite attractive but it was different then. Before she used to wear jeans and oversized wool sweaters, a stark contrast to the high heeled sling backs, black pants and sequin covered halter top she was wearing now.

"Kevin, oh gosh! I just have to hug you, its been so long!" and with that, Arianell threw herself into the well-muscled embrace of her old friend. God, she had missed this.

Pulling her away from him, Kevin asked, "Arianell, what are you doing in Chicago? You're so far away from home."

Arianell smiled and asked, "Come on Kevin, think. What do you think I am doing here?"

Kevin, still holding her arms in his hands, thought for a moment. "Your Ph.D.! You were always talking about becoming a professor."

Glad that he actually remembered, Arianell beamed. "You didn't forget! Yeah, I just started a program in Mediaeval History. With any luck I'll be a professor in 5 years."

As she was saying this, something else dawned on Kevin. "Baby, wait a minute. Today is your birthday! You're 23." He flashed her a beautiful smile and pulled her close to kiss her forehead.

God, how could he do that? Just being in his arms took her breath away, and the place where his lips met her forehead burned from his touch.

Snap out of it, Nelly. Kevin can have any woman he wants, why the hell would he want you?

"Yep," she said, "I'm an old maid now. No husband - not even any prospects. I might as well join a convent." Mentally smacking herself on the forehead she thought, why did you say that? Could you try not to sound so pathetic?

Kevin looked at her in disbelief. "No prospects, you say? Well, there's a man over at the table you just came from who is glaring at me every time I touch you. What about him?"

Turning to follow his gaze, Arianell groaned, "Oh, that's Byron. He's a little clingy, but I keep trying to give him the hint that I'm not interested. He can't seem to take no for an answer."

At that, Kevin's eyes glazed over with rage, "He had better take 'no' for an answer!"

Arianell, quickly grasping his meaning, replied "Oh, don't worry about that. He's harmless. Just a little crush. He'll get over it." She smiled at him then, trying to lighten the mood, but she thought she caught Kevin mumble, "He'd better."

"Well, Nelly, it was great getting to see you but I guess I should let you get back to your party." Kevin couldn't believe he was saying those words, but he didn't know what else to do. She had friends waiting for her and he didn't want to be rude, even if it did mean letting her go.

"Oh well, I guess so. Wait, Kevin, I know you are probably busy, but, umm, would you like to join us? I mean, it's just something informal, my friends and I. And, if you, uh, have anyone else with you, they could join us as well." Arianell was not ready to part from Kevin just yet. Being with him was so wonderful and she wanted to stay with him as long as she could.

Maybe for the rest of your life. Stop that!, she thought. He's your friend! Kevin can get models and actresses to date him, not frumpy, struggling grad students. Be happy for his friendship and leave it at that.

Kevin was shocked and delighted at her offer, "Are you sure? I mean, those are all your smart, school friends. I'm just a dumb jock." He was teasing her and she knew it. Kevin may have been the star pitcher in college, but he also maintained a 4.0 GPA all four years, and he was now a Certified Public Accountant. 'Dumb' and 'jock' were two words never meant to be paired together when speaking about him.

Teasing him back, Arianell retorted, "Yeah, our discussions might go way over your head. But then, you did offer to pay off our tab, so I'm sure we could find a topic that you can find comprehensible."

At that, Kevin threw back his head and laughed out loud. "Gosh, Nelly, I've missed you. Wait a moment while I tell the guys I'm here with that I'm heading over with you."

"Kev, I told you that they're welcome to come too."

"Arianell, those guys came here to pick up women. You are looking mighty fine tonight and I don't intend to have to fight them for your affections. Believe me, its better if they stay where they are."

Somehow Arianell mumbled "Okay," but she was clearly flustered. She and Kevin had always been great friends, but she couldn't believe that he actually found her attractive. He was probably just being nice or teasing, she argued with herself.

After bidding his friends goodnight, he took Arianell's arm and lead her back to her table in the corner of the restaurant. As the two approached, Kevin noticed that Byron was staring at them and sizing him up. Size me up all you want, Kevin thought, because I want you to know that if you ever think of hurting her, I will return the favor ten-fold. And, as if reading Kevin's thoughts, Byron quickly turned away.

When they reached the table, Byron got up and said, "Gee Arianell, it's getting late. I'm thinking of heading home. Would you like to join me?"

"Byron its only 10 o'clock! Go on home if you like but I'm just starting to enjoy myself, plus, I've invited Kevin to join us." With this, Byron turned and stormed off, conveniently leaving the chair next to Arianell's vacant so that Kevin could join them.

Having delayed the introductions, Arianell quickly began, "Kevin, meet my friends - Lisa, Liz, Drew, Dan and David. Lisa, Liz, Drew, Dan and David meet Kevin Luper." Then she whispered to Kevin, "Don't mention the alliteration thing, it gets them upset."

Lisa and Liz seemed captivated by the stunningly handsome man that Arianell had dragged over to the table, while Drew, Dan and David seemed in awe that their friend was apparently good friends with such a prominent athlete.

"Well," Dan said, "any friend of Arianell's is a friend of ours - especially if he is a professional athlete and can get us free tickets to Cubs games." This comment broke the ice and they all began to laugh.

The conversation at the table was lively and Kevin did well debating philosophy with Lisa and David, and later hashing out the difficulties of living on the road 4 months of the year. Arianell was so happy that Kevin was back in her life, even if it was only for a few short hours.