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The newest members come to the valley.

The way I saw it, though, I didn't have much of a choice. No other job offers were materialising, and I was being paid fairly well. Kevin flew out to be with me on a couple of trips. As a translator, I was expected to be at all of the company's meetings and attend some after-hours social functions.

I did manage to get away for a fair amount of time and I quickly found that Kevin was very adept at finding things to do. During the days, he would often disappear on some sightseeing excursion or get on a city bus and explore wherever it was we were. Later, I found out that he often went to visit city missions or orphanages, usually leaving a considerable donation in their offering boxes.

The one good thing about all the east coast to west coast travel was that I began accumulating frequent-flyer miles at an alarming clip. As winter changed into spring, I started to feel a little bit better about my situation.

Once again, I was gainfully employed. I began paying down my debts. The travel was taking its toll on my family life, but Kevin's presence seemed to have a steadying influence on me.

I could still see the puppy love in his eyes. We very rarely talked about our relationship. Mostly we just enjoyed each others's company.

After one jaunt to Vancouver, instead of going our separate ways in Charlotte or Cincinnati or Atlanta, I went home with Kevin to spend a Thursday night before heading back to my parents's house.

The two of us met up with some of his friends for dinner. They were all very nice and made a big deal out of him bringing a "girlfriend" along.

"We thought Kevin made you up," his buddy Mark joked.

"Yeah, we've been trying to fix Kev up with dates for years," Mark's wife said. "But he never likes the girls we suggest."

"Why not?" I asked my lover; I was just now getting used to the idea of having a boyfriend. He only shrugged.

"He won't settle," a third friend scoffed. She was the lead singer in the group we went to see that first time I showed up on his doorstep. I guess she didn't remember me. Of course, she was probably too worried about playing her set than seeing who Kevin was with.

"We're still waiting for someone to claim the pool," Mark smiled.

"What pool?" Kevin asked.

"That's none of your business. I have a feeling I'm going to win, though," his friend laughed. Then he gave me a wink. "I've got to hand it to you, Kev; you've really outdone yourself with Melanie. She is waaaaaaaayyyyyy out of your league."

"Yeah, Kevin," one of the other guys said. "You out-kicked your coverage in a big way."

I didn't get the joke, but watching Kevin turn beet-red was worth it.

His friends continued to give him a hard time and even started calling the two of us "WALL-E" and "EVE". Guess which one of us is which.

Despite the good-natured ribbing, his friends were very gracious and seemed to readily accept me as Kevin's significant other.

"So tell us one thing about yourself that Kevin doesn't know," a tall, dark-haired woman asked. Through the snippets of conversation I had overheard, I had pieced together that she and Kevin went to college together. I couldn't figure out if there had been some sort of deeper relationship there, but they seemed close in an odd, platonic way. She had a knack for relating to people and getting them to open up; it certainly worked on me.

"My parents named me to help with their English," I said after a second.

Kevin's eyebrow went up. The other conversations around the table stopped to hear the story.

"When my brother and I were born, my folks supposedly gave us American names to help us fit in," I started. "What they didn't tell me until I was in high school is that they picked my name because of the L sound. In Japanese, there's no L phoneme. So to force themselves to practice, I became Melanie instead of Hitomi or Ikuyo."

"It must have worked," Kevin laughed. "I don't think I've ever heard them call you 'Merr-ran-ie'."

I blushed a little, but shared in the group's

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