Coming attractions, p.13
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       Coming Attractions, p.13

           Robin Jones Gunn
 
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  “Trent lost his right leg and was in a coma for two weeks.”

  “How awful!”

  Julia pressed on without receiving Katie’s sympathy. “When he came out of the coma, he just wasn’t himself. He didn’t remember who I was. I moved so I could be near him and help with the physical therapy and the long recovery. He worked at it for about three months, and then his spirit just gave up, I think. The doctor said the damage to his brain was more extensive than was first suspected. Two years after the accident, Trent still didn’t know who I was.”

  “Oh, Julia.”

  “He passed away three years ago from an aneurysm.”

  The two of them sat in silence for several moments before Katie spoke again. “That’s why you told me that love doesn’t go away even though people go away.”

  Julia nodded and reached for a tissue from a box on her car’s backseat.

  “You can really love someone but not end up with him forever.” Katie repeated what she had said when she was in Nicole’s room yesterday.

  Julia nodded again. “Love is mysterious. It can be irreparably painful as well.”

  “I agree with that more than you can imagine. Christy talks about how real love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person. It’s more than that, though, isn’t it? Love has to be a lot about accepting what is true and going from there.”

  Julia tilted her head. “Would I be correct in guessing that you’ve been doing some extra credit studying on love lately?”

  “Yes, but I don’t want to talk about me yet. Keep going with your love story.”

  “I don’t know what else to say. I’ve come to believe you have to be courageous to survive real love. Both John and I went through some very deep, dark valleys. John says all the pain and darkness we experienced now makes our love for each other so much more powerful and highly valued. I agree with him. We aren’t going to be the sort of couple that argues over the small stuff. We know what a gift this is, having each other and feeling the way we do.”

  “That is so amazing, Julia. So beautiful. I don’t know if I have the right words to tell you how happy I am for you. For both of you. It sounds like the biggest God-thing ever.”

  Julia offered Katie a smile. “You just said it all right there. Thank you, Katie.”

  “Hearing your story gives me hope.”

  “ ‘Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.’ ”

  “I love that! You didn’t make that up just now, did you?”

  “No, it’s from a poem by Emily Dickinson.”

  “Do you mean Emily on our floor? The one who plays the guitar? I knew she wrote songs. Does she write poems too?”

  “No, I’m talking about Emily Dickinson, the poet. Mid-1800s? Hundreds of short poems published after she died?”

  “Oh. I suppose I should have known that, right? I mean, I am almost a college graduate. I’m supposed to be well versed now in arts, literature, science, humanities, and — ”

  “And the eternal mysteries of love,” Julia added with a grin.

  “That too.”

  “So start there. Tell me all about what you now know about the eternal mysteries of love.”

  “It hurts.”

  “Ah, then I’m guessing you and I have a few things to talk about.”

  “Yes, I guess we do.”

  Julia and Katie started their many-faceted conversation in the car while parked in front of the hardware store. About forty minutes later, after Julia had been given a fairly thorough overview of the last month of Katie’s life, she started the engine.

  “Are you going to drive me to the nut farm now?” Katie asked.

  “No. I need coffee before I hear any more.”

  Katie turned the topic back to Julia and her wedding plans while they drove a few more miles down the road. She thought it was great that Julia and John were going to hold the ceremony on upper campus in the meadow where Todd and Christy had their wedding last May.

  What Katie didn’t think was great was the place Julia selected for their coffee.

  Bella Barista.

  It was a place Katie and Rick had visited a number of times. On their first visit, Katie initiated a fun tradition of kissing Rick on the cheek at the register. As soon as Julia and Katie walked inside Bella Barista and the swirling fragrance of fresh-roasted coffee came over them, Katie wanted to cry.

  But she held steady and braced herself while standing at the register. Don’t think about Rick. Don’t think about Rick. Don’t think about Rick.

  “Do you know what you want?” Julia asked.

  “Eli.”

  Julia looked at her, amused and surprised.

  Katie looked back, just as stunned, and said, “What did you just ask me?”

  “A better question would be, what did you just answer me?”

  “Tea. I was trying to order some tea.” Katie turned to the young woman behind the counter and said, “I’ll have a hot tea. Large. And one of those cinnamon rolls.”

  Julia paid, and the two of them went over to a corner table. “Well, that was rather revealing.”

  “What? That girl’s top? I know. Hello! Leave a little for the imagination.”

  “Katie, I meant your saying you wanted Eli.”

  “I didn’t say that.”

  Julia took a long, slow sip of her latte.

  “I was trying to say I wanted tea. ‘Tea’ comes out sounding like ‘Eli,’ I suppose, when you haven’t had enough sleep. It’s the long e sound. Teeee. Eeeeli. See?”

  Julia kept her glowy, composed look as she nibbled on a corner of Katie’s cinnamon roll. “You know, my mother used to say she grew to appreciate PMS.”

  Katie made a face. “What does that have to do with anything?”

  “She said that on those days of the month her emotions were at their most vulnerable and rawest. That’s when she discovered that the words coming out of her mouth were closest to her real thoughts and feelings. She didn’t have the usual filters on when her hormones were on edge.”

  “Are you saying my hormones are on edge? You sound like Rick. I’ve already told you where that relationship went. If you know what’s good for you, you won’t call me out on my hormones. Or on my verbal skills when I’m ordering tea and I’m sleep deprived.”

  Julia didn’t seem to see the humor in Katie’s comments. With a straightforward expression she said, “Katie, do you want to hear my opinion?”

  “Yes, of course.”

  “I think you did a fantastic job navigating all of it. All of it! Including the way you went directly to Nicole but didn’t say anything to Rick. I agree with Christy. You should look at the big picture of this whole year and accept the invitation to the graduation party at the Doyles’ home.”

  “If Rick’s mom will still have me.”

  “I think she will. This is your community. These are your people; Rick’s mom is one of your women. You need to stay connected to your circles for this important moment in your life.”

  Katie blew on her tea in an attempt to cool it some. “Do you think I should have waited? Before breaking up with Rick, I mean. Do you think I should just have rolled on through graduation and the party and whatever else, and then, after all the attention was off us, I should have broken it off?”

  “No.”

  Katie waited for more words. “That’s it? No? You think I did the right thing?”

  “I do. What you did was messy, yes. But it was honest, and if there’s one thing I do know about you, Katie, you don’t fake anything. I can’t see how you could have maintained the relationship with Rick after your heart changed toward him. You did the right thing. Besides, what if you had gone along pretending all the way to the graduation party, and everyone was there, and then Rick proposed in front of everyone?”

  Katie sobered instantly. “That would have been tragic.”

  “I’m not saying that’s what he was going to do.”

>   “But it definitely is the way he does things. The café in Redlands was scheduled to open April 27, but I received a generic email from Rick’s company saying the opening was delayed until May 25 or something like that. I felt all along that he was waiting until after the café opened before turning his attention to our relationship. He wasn’t going to propose until he had the café checked off his list. Then he would set up a new timeline for us. That’s how his brain works. One goal at a time. Me, I’m all over the place all the time.”

  “Talk to me about your classes and how things are looking for you now that it’s crunch time.”

  “Disastrous. Next question.”

  Julia pulled out a notebook and flipped it open to a blank page. “I know how you feel about lists and schedules, but I’m going to ask you to put aside those negatives feelings for the next half-hour. You need a plan of attack, and I’m just the person to give you one.”

  For the next twenty-five minutes, Julia helped Katie to walk through a step-by-step schedule to complete her work in the few remaining weeks. To Katie’s surprise, the process was a lot less painful than she thought it would be. In the same way that Julia and John’s love story gave Katie hope for her future love life, the plan in front of her gave her hope that she might pull off all that was required of her before graduation day.

  Julia pulled out the paperwork Katie needed to complete for her position as RA, and together they organized Katie and Nicole’s list of responsibilities for the Spring Fling.

  “I can’t believe this year is almost over.”

  “Don’t start saying that now,” Julia said. “Wait until we’re in the final week. When I hear students becoming nostalgic before we’re even into the last month of classes, it’s like hearing Christmas music the day after Halloween. We’re not there yet.”

  Katie looked at the list in front of her. “Thanks for helping me think though all this. It’s a lot.”

  “Yes, it is. But you can do it, Katie.”

  “You know what? I believe you.”

  They left Bella Barista, and Katie realized she really did believe it. She believed she could not only accomplish all the work and class responsibilities on the list but she could also find her way around to the other side of her relationships with Rick and Nicole.

  “What are you going to say to Nicole?” Katie asked Julia as they drove back up the hill to Rancho Corona.

  “Say about what? Her responsibilities for the Spring Fling?”

  “No, about Rick.”

  “Nothing. Why?”

  “You don’t feel that you should tell her it’s okay to call him or maybe even ask him to the Spring Fling?”

  Julia looked surprised. “Why would I tell her something like that?”

  “I don’t know. You’re her RD.”

  “Katie, that would be like my telling you to call Eli and ask him to the Spring Fling. Why would I do something like that? You’re capable of making your own decisions about your love life, as you made clear in your relationship with Rick. I mean, who am I, besides your RD, to try to help you to see all the common ground you have with Eli Lorenzo? Why would I pelt you with the obvious evidences of the guy’s interest in you? What would be the point of reminding you of the way the two of you worked seamlessly on the fund-raiser for water for Africa? Why would I do that?”

  “Yeah, why would you?”

  “Exactly. And why would I remind you of what happened when you had the flu and Eli brought you medicine on Valentine’s Day? Not to mention the New Zealand glacier water.”

  “Did I tell you about the New Zealand glacier water?”

  “Yes, you did. You told me when I was checking in on you when you were sick. If I remember correctly, all you wanted to talk about was Eli and the way he prayed for you.”

  “And how he told me not to operate heavy machinery.” Katie felt her defenses lowering.

  “Just pay attention to what God is doing, Katie. That’s all I’m saying. Just pay attention and respond appropriately.”

  15

  With uncharacteristic organizational determination, after breakfast with Julia, Katie posted her long to-do list in her room and systematically went down the list. Instead of check marks next to each task, Katie mixed it up a little. Sometimes she crossed off the words. Sometimes she drew a happy face or a sunflower at the end of the line. She had other plans for a few of them, such as her huge year-end project. When she finally finished that, she planned to write “ALLELUIA!” over the task.

  Keeping to her list kept Katie from becoming involved in long conversations with anyone other than the women on her floor. She only interacted with other students who came by the front desk when she was on duty and a few friends here and there who stopped her as she trekked across campus to her classes.

  All in all, Katie had to admit that in one week, under the pressure of checking items off her list, she accomplished twice what she had expected. But she felt a sudden stab of pain when she entered Crown Hall lobby late Friday afternoon and realized the weekend was ahead of her. For the past year and a half, her first thought for every weekend was how she might adjust her time so she could see Rick or at least set aside time for long phone conversations with him.

  Thoughts of Rick toppled her off the wave of success she had been riding on in light of her list of accomplishments. Ironically the list that was making her feel so happy was the very sort of difference that had kept her at odds with Rick. She now felt as if she understood him a little better. Checking tasks off a list could be a pretty great natural high.

  Katie stopped by the front desk to check the schedule for her weekend hours. Jordan, one of the RAs on the guys’ floor, was on duty. He handed Katie the roster before she even asked.

  “How did you know?” she said.

  “You’re predictable. Hey, did you and Nicole figure out the decorations for the Spring Fling tomorrow night?”

  “Julia delegated the whole thing to Nicole. I’m in charge of the games.”

  “What did you come up with?”

  “Twister. I picked up twenty of them at Bargain Barn awhile ago. We’ll divide up into teams. Craig is going to run the video camera while everyone is twisting, then some of the guys will edit it as we eat. The grand finale will be watching the playback.”

  “Uh, Katie, you know it’s formal, don’t you? How are you going to convince the women to play Twister in formal wear?”

  “It’s not formal.”

  “Yes, it is.”

  “No, it’s not. Where did you hear it was formal? It’s not a ball; it’s a fling. Your information is wrong.”

  “I think you’re the one who’s wrong. You weren’t at the staff meeting when we discussed the details. I don’t know where you got your info, but I’m telling you: It’s formal.”

  Katie let out a huff and headed to her floor. Nicole would know.

  The two of them had managed three neutral encounters since Katie’s grand announcement about overhearing Nicole and Julia’s conversation. One of their encounters was in the bathroom and two were while passing each other on campus. In each of the circumstances, they were both in motion when they saw each other. That meant they could keep walking and exchange a friendly “hello” without anyone around them knowing the trauma they had gone through.

  As Katie approached Nicole’s door, she was pretty sure they had both had enough time to mellow and think things through. It probably would be good if they sat down now for a second round of talks.

  With a light-hearted tap on Nicole’s half-closed door, Katie called out, “It’s me. Okay if I come in?”

  Before Nicole could answer, the door swung open, and there stood Rick.

  Katie’s heart did a flitter-flutter. She stared into his brown eyes and felt as if, for one moment, time had stopped.

  Then she blinked, and she was on the other side of the fairy tale. She really was out of love with him. She still loved him in the deep-soul-friends-forever way, but she knew — somehow knew — that she tru
ly was no longer in love with him.

  “Wow,” she said under her breath. I’m not in love with you anymore, Rick Doyle.

  His face was flushed and his jaw clenched. “I was just leaving.”

  “You don’t have to.” Katie looked past Rick and realized Nicole wasn’t in her room. “Where’s Nicole?”

  “How would I know? The guy at the front desk said it was open dorm hours; so I stepped in and left the box on her desk. Your box is by your door.” Rick sounded robotic.

  “My box?”

  “Invitations for your graduation party.”

  “Oh, right. The graduation party. Rick, are you sure your mom still wants to do this? I mean, she knows that you and I are — ”

  “She knows.”

  “And she still wants me to come?”

  “The party is on the calendar. She sent you a box of invitations. Looks like she still wants you to come.” Rick started to leave.

  “Rick, wait.”

  He stopped but didn’t look at Katie.

  “Are you okay?”

  “What kind of a question is that?”

  “It’s a sincere question.” Katie’s tone matched the irritation in his. “And here’s another sincere question. How do you feel about my coming to your house for this graduation party? Because if you’re not comfortable with my being there, I won’t come.”

  “It’s not my house. It’s my parents’ house.”

  “But you’ll be there, right?”

  “I’ll be there.”

  Katie wanted to reach over and touch his shoulder in a sympathetic, friendly way. She realized that she was further along in the bounce-back process than Rick was. He wasn’t moving from the doorway, and he still wasn’t looking at her.

  “Hey, Rick, listen.” Katie lowered her voice.

  “You don’t have to say anything, Katie. Really. I think both of us have said just about everything we could say.”

  “Except I want to say I’m sorry, Rick. I’m sorry for — ” Katie started to tear up. “I’m just really sorry, Rick.”

  His shoulders seemed to relax and his expression toward Katie turned more sympathetic.

  “You don’t have to say anything, Katie.”

 
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