Coming attractions, p.10
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       Coming Attractions, p.10

           Robin Jones Gunn
 
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  Katie made her way to the kitchen and found Marti at the kitchen sink, rinsing off a cluster of red grapes.

  “Hi.”

  Marti spun around. In one swift motion she turned off the water, put the grapes on the counter, and dried her hands with a towel.

  “Well, at last! You certainly had an extravagant sleep.”

  Katie brushed off the twinge of guilt that seemed to ride Marti’s comment and asked, “Where is everyone?”

  Marti looked at Katie as if the answer should be obvious to her. “Rick left sometime in the middle of the night. I found a note from him on the coffee table, apologizing for the inconvenience. We assumed it must have been an emergency with the café. What a disappointment that he had to leave and ruin this time for the two of you. He really needed to be here to help you to decide on your new car.”

  Katie felt her jaw clench and a wave of sadness tighten her stomach.

  “Of course, Bob, Todd, and Christy went to church.” Her tone gave away how much she disapproved of that particular choice. “Christy said she tried to wake you, but you wouldn’t budge.”

  Katie nodded.

  “I believe our guestroom is the quietest room in the house. Now that we’ve redecorated it, it is quite an oasis, isn’t it? Did I show you what we did with our bedroom? I don’t think you were in the house last night when I took Christy and Todd upstairs to show them. Come with me. I’ll show it to you now.”

  In a crazy little way, Katie was glad she was with Aunt Marti. She hadn’t considered the possibility of Rick’s leaving in the middle of the night, but she didn’t blame him. She knew she would have done the same thing if she were in his position. Katie also was relieved that no one knew the real reason for Rick’s departure. It was better that way.

  Typical Rick Doyle. Manners over mayhem every time. His mother trained him well. I feel like I should call him. What would I say? No, don’t call yet. It’s better to wait. I shouldn’t call him. We both need space and time so that this can sink in.

  Katie followed Marti upstairs to view the redecorated master suite. Marti chattered the whole way, but Katie tuned her out in favor of giving space for all her morning-after thoughts and feelings.

  If no one knows that I broke up with Rick in the middle of the night, I wonder if I can keep a poker face the rest of the day. I have a car to buy, a paper to write, and a long drive back to school. It would be fantastic if I could press forward on all this without getting tangled up in my emotions. I did the right thing by breaking up with Rick. I know I did.

  Didn’t I?

  Oh, this is going to be more difficult than I realized. I didn’t think this through, did I?

  I should call him. No. Well, maybe later. On the way home.

  Katie entered the master bedroom, which was decorated in an elaborate Mediterranean style with sheer, flowing curtains billowing in the late-morning breeze. “It’s beautiful, Marti.”

  Marti continued the tour, going on in great detail while Katie made appropriate ooh and ahh sounds. Inwardly, Katie was in another place. A place of wiggly lines. And in that place, she was trying to put together a plan for how the next few days needed to line up.

  She knew Rick and she would end up having a long conversation before the week was over. He was a master of exit interviews for people who had worked at the Dove’s Nest. He was good about closure and liked checking off unfinished tasks from his continual lists. While Katie certainly wasn’t a task, she was a big part of his life and had been for a long time. They would need time for an extensive conversation. Katie wanted a few more days to organize her wiggly lines before that conversation.

  Marti invited Katie to join her on the newly expanded deck that extended from the master suite through French doors. Two elaborate lounge chairs with extra-thick, padded blue cushions awaited them.

  “This is one of my favorite spots in the house.” Marti stretched out on one of the loungers. A canvas umbrella in a fixed stand between the loungers provided shade. Just over the railing of the deck was an expansive view of Newport Beach. The caramel-colored sand stretched wide and far in both directions, dotted only by strategically placed lifeguard stations and weekend beachgoers. Beyond the sand, the gray blue ocean spread out like a wrinkled blanket all the way to the horizon. Overhead, the late morning sun tossed out its golden rays up and down the beach for free.

  “It’s beautiful here,” Katie said.

  “Yes, it is, isn’t it? I keep telling Robert we should move, but then a day like this shows up, and I find myself quite content here on my balcony.” She extended her arm in a sweeping gesture of the beach and ocean before them. Katie thought Marti looked as if she might start singing an aria from an opera.

  “I think I’ll go for a walk,” Katie said before Marti had a chance to continue. “When do you think Bob and the others will be back?”

  Marti checked her watch. “An hour. Maybe less. I made reservations for us for lunch.”

  “Of course you did.”

  Katie realized the thought had popped out of her mouth. With a sheepish grin, she quickly added, “You’re always good about taking care of us that way. I’ll be back in less than an hour.”

  With a slightly wounded tone, Marti said, “Take your phone. I’ll have Robert call you when they get back.”

  Katie left before her mouth got her into any more trouble with Marti.

  What is with my timing? I don’t want to be insensitive to other people. Just because I think something, I don’t have to spout it. I have to work on that.

  Grabbing her phone as well as her sunglasses, she took off for the beach. With her sandals in one hand and her cell phone in the other, she wedged her bare feet deep into the cool sand.

  Some good times had taken place at this beach. Katie knew that Christy had lots more memories around the fire pits and along the shore than she did, but her memories were golden nonetheless. Doug had tried to convince her once that a shark was after her in the water. Antonio had fun teasing her the day they were here. She and Christy had walked and talked along the water’s edge one evening at sunset and shared their dreams for the future with each other. As long as Katie could remember, Rick had been that hint of a dream in the back of her mind. He was always her “what if” guy. And now the “what if” had become a “what was.”

  Katie stared out across the expanse of greenish blue and blinked back the misty cloud of tears that surfaced without an invitation. She wished Christy were with her now. Her forever friend would help her to make sense of everything she was feeling.

  Settling in the sand, Katie drew in a deep breath and turned to her true Forever Friend. The one who promised he would never leave her or disown her.

  “At least you and I are knit together at the heart, aren’t we, God? Yeah, we are. You and me, Lord. So go ahead and tell me: Am I a train wreck, or am I on the right track? Have I made too big of a mess of everything? Is Rick going to be okay? Is this just how life is? Tangled and messy? Nothing for me has ever seemed clear or clear-cut. Is it normal for someone who is sincerely trying to follow you with all her heart to end up in such a mess all the time?”

  Just then her cell phone vibrated. She assumed Bob was calling to say they were back. Katie regretted that her heart-to-heart conversation with God was being cut short.

  Without looking at the caller ID, she answered with, “I’m on my way back to the house right now.”

  Eli’s voice responded. “Katie, are you okay?”

  “Oh, Eli. Hi. I thought you were someone else. Yeah, I’m okay. I don’t know if Rick is, though. What did he tell you? I’m sure he’s still pretty upset. I wish I’d been more — ”

  “Katie,” Eli interrupted her, “I’m not following you.”

  “You talked to Rick, right?”

  “No, not since Thursday afternoon.”

  “Oh.” She switched the phone to her other ear. “Wait, then why did you ask if I was okay?”

  “I left you a couple of messages on your phone and
texted you. Did you get the messages?”

  “No. I didn’t look. What were the messages?”

  “I, um, I thought something was wrong. That something had happened.”

  “When?”

  “Last night. I sensed a really strong prompting to pray for you.”

  “You did?”

  “Yeah. I prayed for a while and then — ”

  “Eli, when were you praying for me? What time last night?”

  “It was sometime between midnight and one. My heart felt really heavy for you.”

  Katie was a little creeped out and a little in awe at the same time.

  “Katie? Are you still there?”

  “Yeah. I just can’t believe God woke you up to pray for me in the middle of the night.”

  “So are you okay?”

  Katie drew in a deep breath of the brisk ocean air before speaking the words aloud to anyone for the first time. “I… I broke up with Rick.”

  11

  Five days after Katie told Eli she had broken up with Rick, she was standing next to Eli in Crown Hall’s parking lot. They stood practically shoulder-to-shoulder, examining her new-used car. Eli’s campus security golf cart was a few yards away. He had clicked off the engine and hopped out when he saw Katie leaving her car.

  “So are you going to name this one ‘Baby Hummer 2’?” Eli asked.

  “No, there was only one Baby Hummer.” Katie ran her thumb over a white scratch on the door of the Subaru Outback. The deep green car had the rectangular shape of a small SUV. “This one looks more like a Baby Land Rover.”

  “We had a Land Rover when I was little.”

  “What did you call it?”

  Eli shot Katie a wry grin. “Same thing we called all the vehicles in the compound. ‘Car.’ That way all we had to do when we wanted to go somewhere was call, ‘Here, Car. Come, Car.’ Whichever one happened to miraculously be working at the time would come running.”

  “Cute,” Katie said. She smirked at Eli and took one more walk around her new car. “I could call her ‘Mini Rover’ or ‘Red Rover.’ Except she’s green.”

  “Green Rover?” Eli suggested.

  Katie thought another moment, and the name came to her. “Clover! She’s not green like a Rover; she’s green like clover. Clover the mini-Rover. I like it. What do you think?”

  “I think you are the only person I know who names her car.”

  Katie turned her attention on Eli. Now that his curly brown hair was growing out, it gave him a free-as-the-wind and wild-as-the-ocean look. It was a good look on him.

  Katie was about to tell him how great his hair looked, but then she suddenly felt awkward. This was the first time she had talked to Eli since their phone call on the beach, and she knew she had opened up far too much to him in that call.

  She knew at the time she would have been better off talking over her deeply personal feelings with Christy. But at the moment, when she needed a friend, Eli was the one who was there for her as she sat alone on the beach. He listened to everything she spilled out, and then he said he was going to be praying for her and for Rick.

  “So has Rick said anything to you yet?” Katie asked.

  “No. We’ve been together at the apartment a couple of times, but he didn’t bring it up, nor did I. I think it would be good if you told him that you and I have talked about your breakup. I don’t want him to feel caught off guard.”

  “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll tell him the next time we talk. He sent me flowers yesterday. This is a lot harder than I thought it would be.”

  “Are you still certain you made the right decision?”

  “Yes.” Katie nodded and looked down at the keys in her hand. “I know it was the right decision. The timing and my wording really stunk, but, yeah, I still know that Rick and I went as far as our hearts would take us. I know that.”

  “You need to talk to him.”

  “I know.”

  Eli stood beside her, not saying anything. She again noticed the L-shaped scar on the side of his neck. She had always wondered if Eli had surgery on his throat or if the scar was from something odd like falling on a toy fire truck as a child.

  “You know what’s been really strange?” Katie asked. “After I talked to you when I was on the beach, I decided I didn’t want to say anything to anyone until Rick and I had a chance to talk things through some more, and I haven’t talked about it with anyone.”

  “You didn’t tell Todd and Christy?”

  “No. There wasn’t time. Marti rushed us off to a big Sunday brunch at the yacht club, and then Todd went back to the beach house to surf. Marti and Christy went shopping. It ended up that just Uncle Bob and I looked at cars, which worked out fine because I only bought one.”

  Eli grinned. “You only bought one? How many cars were you planning to buy?”

  Katie realized she had almost said too much. Her plan of surprising Christy and Todd by buying them a car was dismantled while she shopped with Uncle Bob. Christy’s steady, calm uncle convinced Katie to concentrate on her own need for a car and to wait until after graduation before following through on her idea to bless Christy and Todd with a car.

  Answering Eli honestly but letting the sarcasm shine through, Katie said, “Oh, I thought I would start with two cars as long as I had my checkbook out. I mean, what better way to drown my sorrows after a big breakup than to buy a couple of cars?”

  Instead of laughing at her joke, Eli reached over and touched the curve of her face along her jaw line. The brief, tender touch caused Katie’s heart to stir unexpectedly.

  “It’s going to be okay, Katie. You’re going to be okay. Rick is going to be okay.”

  “I know,” she said softly. She could feel her face turning rosy.

  “You need to open yourself up to other possibilities.” His gaze was fixed on her in a way that hinted at affection.

  When Katie first met Eli, she had quickly realized that one of his distinguishing traits was the way he stared at people curiously without realizing how unnerving and rude it came across. This gaze wasn’t like his old way of staring. This was a compassionate look from the heart of a caring friend.

  Katie tried to conceal her self-conscious feelings by talking fast. “If by other possibilities you mean having a look around for a new boyfriend, you can stop right there. I can tell you now that isn’t going to happen. I’m done with relationships for a while. A long while. You don’t know me, but I’m famous for my declarations of giving up on guys. This time, though, I mean it.”

  “I know you, Katie,” Eli replied in a low but firm voice.

  “No, you don’t. Not in this area. I always come out of tailspin crushes and say I’m going to focus on the Lord and get my heart right with him. But this time I actually feel as if my heart is right with God. So, if by any chance you were trying to say that I should be open to other possibilities because you’re thinking of asking me out on a charity date to cheer me up, don’t bother, because I wouldn’t go with you.”

  “I actually meant being open to other possibilities about what you’ll do after you graduate.”

  “Oh.”

  “But thanks for the subtle hint on your feelings about ever going out with me.” Eli gave her another one of his wry grins and climbed back into the security cart.

  “Don’t take what I just said too personally.”

  “I rarely do.” He drove off, and she watched him turn the corner.

  Eli Lorenzo, you are one unique piece of God’s creative efforts in the world of men, I’ll give you that.

  Katie headed into Crown Hall, trying to sort out what Eli had been communicating under the surface just then. Was it possible he was interested in her? Why would he be?

  What was the phrase Rick used last summer? Rick said Eli thought I was memorable. Was that it? No, not memorable. Unforgettable. Yeah, that was it. Eli told Rick I was unforgettable. Why?

  She thought back to the many conversations she and Eli had shared since last fall, when she w
ent out to the desert with him one night to watch a meteor shower. They had worked shoulder-to-shoulder for weeks on the clean water fund-raiser. Katie had learned a lot about Eli and his childhood in Africa. The guy had been nothing but a friend to her. At least, that’s how she saw him, once she got past her initial awkwardness over being around him. A good friend who made no secret that he prayed for her. The praying, she was sure, was a habit he must have developed as a missionary kid.

  Taking the elevator to the third floor, Katie made her way to Julia’s apartment. She easily put thoughts of Eli aside. She had lots to settle with Julia and a bunch of past-due paperwork to turn in. This was the first chance she’d had to connect with her after continually stalling on setting up a meeting time.

  The door to Julia’s apartment was open a few inches. Katie took that as a sign to go on in until she heard voices from inside. Hanging back, she intended to listen just long enough to determine if the conversation was personal.

  She recognized the voice as Nicole’s and felt confident that whatever she was telling Julia, Nicole would end up telling Katie.

  Katie was about to enter when she realized Nicole was crying. Katie hesitated, realizing she might be interrupting something.

  “It’s not her at all,” Nicole said. “It’s me. She doesn’t know how I feel or how horrible these past few months have been every time I’m around him. I’ve worked hard to hold back my feelings. I really have tried to lie to myself, like you told me, but it’s killing me. I know it’s wrong, but I can’t get rid of these feelings for Rick.”

  Katie froze. Rick! Feelings for Rick!

  “I would never want to do anything that would hurt Katie. She’s one of my closest friends.”

  Katie’s feet felt glued to the floor.

  “Have you tried being around Rick less?” Julia asked.

  “Yes. But then he shows up here to see Katie and…”

  “Has Rick given you any indication that he might be interested in you? Does he flirt with you or come on to you in any way?”

 
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