Coming attractions, p.14
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       Coming Attractions, p.14

           Robin Jones Gunn
 
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  “I feel like I need to say something. I just don’t know what to say.”

  Rick ran his fingers through his dark hair. “Look, Katie, I’ve been thinking a lot this week about us. About you. I think I thought more about you during this week than I have maybe our whole dating relationship.”

  Katie’s heart pounded faster. Is he going to say that he hopes we’ll get back together?

  “The more I thought about you, the more I saw why you reached the conclusion you did. I think that’s because I was thinking about you. Just you. Not about us. Not about me. Not about how you could fit into my life. I thought about you, your dreams and goals, and your personality. That’s when I knew I had to agree. You and I weren’t going to be good together for the long term.”

  “But as boyfriend and girlfriend, we were really good together.”

  “I thought so too.”

  They stood awkwardly for a moment, looking at each other and then looking away. In the past this was the moment when they would hug or kiss or both. Now they just shuffled their feet.

  Katie made the first move and smiled up at him. “I loved being your girlfriend, Rick Doyle.”

  Rick smiled back. It was a great smile. Just like the ones Katie remembered over the years when Rick was his truest self. Whether he was being ornery or tender, sincere or cool. This was his best smile.

  “I’m glad I ran into you, Katie.”

  “Me too. Hey, you should come to the Spring Fling tomorrow night.”

  “Is it a date event?”

  “Not really. You know how these all-hall events are. People come together but not as actual couples. You should come. Just come. For old times’ sake.”

  He thought a moment and asked, “When do you need a final answer?”

  “I don’t. We’re not selling tickets or anything. Just come. Seven o’clock. Here in the lobby.”

  “It’s casual, right?”

  “Ah, that’s one thing I’m not sure about. I heard rumors it was semi-formal. That’s what I came to ask Nicole. I can let you know once I find out. How would that be?”

  Rick nodded slowly. “That would be good.”

  Katie nodded and suddenly felt a little like crying, but she didn’t.

  Rick turned to go when Katie remembered one more thing. “Oh, I saw the email about the delay with the opening of the café. Is everything okay?”

  “We had a delay on the pizza oven’s delivery and had to have one of the walls rewired. It made sense to slow it down another month. Everything else is going good, though. I’m looking to move out to Redlands by the first of June.”

  “You are?”

  “I was going to wait until… well, you know… until I saw how our plans lined up. But I decided this week to go ahead and make the move. I really like what I do, Katie.”

  “I know you do. It’s what you were created to do.”

  “Just as you were created to chase adventure until it catches you.”

  Katie’s smile broadened. No one ever had described her so accurately. “Yes, that’s what I was created to do.”

  “You weren’t made for the deli sandwich assembly line. You can do it, but it doesn’t fill up your soul.”

  Now Katie knew she was going to cry. It was the first time Rick showed he really understood how she was wired. “Thank you, Rick.”

  He gave her another signature, vintage-Rick grin. “I have to give the prize to Eli for naming it.”

  “Naming what?” Katie blinked away her skittering tears.

  “Naming this feeling that comes from being around you. It’s extraordinary. You, Katie Weldon, are unforgettable.”

  Rick turned and strode down the hall. Katie watched him go. If ever there was a good way or a right way to break up with one of your forever friends, this was it, right there. Finally.

  Wiping her tears with the back of her hand and drawing in a deep breath, Katie started to go. She was about to close Nicole’s door all the way when she heard her name whispered.

  Katie froze. She listened more closely. Did I just hear something? No, that had to be my imagination, right?

  “Katie!” the whisper came again, louder this time.

  Turning back into Nicole’s room, Katie tiptoed across the rug. She went over to the bed and looked around to the side that faced the window. There on the floor was a big lump under a blanket with just a nose and pair of eyes peeking over the top.

  16

  Nicole, what are you doing? Have you been there the whole time Rick and I were talking?”

  “Is he gone?” Nicole pulled down the blanket and let her whole face show.

  “Yes, he’s gone.”

  “Could you close the door?”

  Katie strode back to the door and gave it a firm push. If she weren’t so flustered over Nicole’s having heard every detail of her heartfelt conversation with Rick, she would have found it humorous that Nicole had been playing possum behind her bed.

  When Nicole stood up, Katie could see why she hid. All she had on was her underwear.

  “I forgot it was open-dorm Friday. My door was open a few inches, like it usually is. I heard this loud knock and then Rick’s voice, and I didn’t know what to do. I dove behind my bed and hoped he wouldn’t see me. Oh, Katie, I’m sorry I eavesdropped. I didn’t mean to.”

  Nicole pulled on a pair of shorts that were on the end of her bed along with a hooded cotton shirt. She pulled the hood over her head like a repentant little monk. “I’m so sorry.”

  Katie’s frustration melted. She knew what it was like to eavesdrop accidentally.

  “Don’t worry about it, Nicole.”

  The two of them stood a few feet apart, looking at each other and then looking away.

  After a full minute and a half of the awkwardness, Nicole said, “Do you have time to talk?”

  “Sure.” Even though Katie said the word, she didn’t feel ready to have a heart-to-heart with Nicole. Instead of sinking into Nicole’s conversation chair, Katie kept standing.

  “Actually,” Nicole said, looking away. “I need to meet someone in a few minutes. I’m probably late. What time is it? You know what? It doesn’t matter. You and I can talk another time. I should just go.”

  Nicole wasn’t acting like her gracious, calm self. She was acting more like Katie — on the run, never quite sure what time it was or where she was supposed to be.

  “Okay, sure. We can talk later. I’ll be in my room all night studying. I have front desk duty in the morning.”

  “Oh, and it’s casual.”

  “What’s casual?”

  “The Spring Fling. I don’t know who told you it was formal.”

  “That would be Jordan, the big lug sitting at the front desk right now, telling everyone it’s formal.”

  “I’ll talk to him right now and ask him to send an email out to the master list.” Nicole headed for the door.

  Katie followed her. “If you need any help with the decorations, I’ll have time tomorrow afternoon.”

  “That’s okay. Julia delegated it to me.”

  “I know. But I can help.” Katie reached out and touched Nicole on the shoulder before she slid out the door. “Listen, you and I don’t have to do this. We don’t have to pretend anything. I can’t say I’m crazy about what just happened and how you heard everything, but then I’m sure you’re still frustrated with me for overhearing what you told Julia. So we both goofed up. It’s all out on the table now. Why don’t we find a way to go forward from here?”

  Nicole looked as if she might cry. As a matter of fact, she looked like she had been doing a fair amount of crying lately. Her eyes were puffy, and she had on no makeup, which was unusual for her.

  “I need a little more time, Katie.”

  “Time for what? To decide if you’re going to forgive me for eavesdropping?”

  “No, I don’t hold that against you.”

  “Then time for what?”

  Nicole turned to Katie with a tight expression. “Time to figure
out how to act around you and around Rick.”

  “I can help you with that. Don’t act. Just be you. Be the wonderful, sweet Nicole who has been my close friend all year. Nothing has changed between you and me, Nicole. You didn’t betray me or anything. And with Rick, just be your sweet self. He’ll wake up one of these days and realize what a gem you are.”

  Nicole’s tears were dripping silently. She looked doubtful of Katie’s words.

  “Hey, you and I both know that boys are slower at figuring out these things than girls. He’ll get there. Give him time.”

  “Katie, how can you be so open about all this? If I were you, I would be devastated. I would hate me. I wouldn’t be talking to me right now.”

  Katie shrugged. “It’s just how I see it.”

  “You and Rick had such a close relationship. I mean, even here at the end he’s hugging you and telling you how wonderful you are.”

  “Trust me, Rick and I had a few ballistic moments before we got to this. And a lot of tears. You didn’t see the other conversations, which is a good thing. It’s okay, Nicole. Like I said last week, you have my blessing. I told you I wouldn’t say anything to him, and I won’t. But don’t you go comatose on your true feelings. Just be you. See what God does and take it from there.”

  Nicole wrapped her arms around Katie and cried softly into her shoulder. Katie, who felt like she was pretty much done with all the tears she wanted to see or feel or cry for the next decade, gave Nicole a comforting pat on the back. “It’s okay. Go ahead, cry it out. All this drama right before graduation. How smart are we? Have you ever heard of Emily Dickens, by the way?”

  Nicole stepped back and gave Katie an odd look. “Do you mean Em across the hall?”

  “No, the poet.”

  “Oh, Emily Dickinson. Yes, I’ve heard of her.”

  “I thought it was Dickens.”

  “You were probably thinking of Charles Dickens.”

  “Whatever. Emily whatever-her-last-name-was wrote a poem about hope. I can’t quote it like Julia, but you should ask her to tell it to you. It’s sweet. And encouraging. And I guess that doesn’t really matter since I don’t know the poem. But did you know that Julia is getting married?”

  Nicole’s eyes grew wide.

  “Okay, obviously you didn’t know. Why did I open my mouth?”

  Nicole said, “No, I knew, but I thought I wasn’t supposed to say anything. She asked me to do the flowers for the wedding.”

  “Oh, that’s nice. They’re getting married in the upper campus meadow.”

  “I know. It’s going to be beautiful.” Nicole took the hood off her head and patted her final tears away. “Katie, are you sure that you’re okay with Rick and with your dating relationship being over?”

  “Yes.” Katie tried to make the sincerity she felt show in her eyes.

  “You are amazing, Katie.”

  “So are you, Nicole. And like I told you, it’s only a matter of time before Rick catches on to that fact. He’ll be at the Spring Fling tomorrow night; so wear your boy-catcher sweater.”

  “My boy-catcher sweater?”

  “You know, the black fitted one. You wear that with a pair of jeans and any pair of your lovely assortment of cute shoes, and I predict you’ll catch yourself a boy before the night is out. No, let me correct that. You’ll be catching a man. A godly man.”

  Nicole gave Katie a final quick hug and a big smile. Katie went down to her room and found the box of invitations by the door, where Rick had left them. She unlocked her door, went inside, and took a good look at the mess. The mess was why she had locked her door. Unlike Nicole’s, Katie’s room was never ready for company on a moment’s notice.

  Deciding to try a tactic Julia had suggested during their coffee meeting at Bella Barista last Saturday, Katie set the alarm on her phone for twenty minutes. She worked against the clock. Could she clean her entire room in twenty minutes?

  To her surprise, the timed cleanup worked. Christy would never believe what I just did. What a different year she and I would have had together last year if I had managed to implement this little trick sooner.

  Turning off the alarm on her phone, Katie texted Christy to report the small victory.

  A moment later Christy’s response came back. “GOOD FOR YOU! BIOPSY BENIGN, BTW.”

  Katie thought for a minute. Then she remembered Christy’s visit to the doctor and the mole she had had removed.

  “YEAH!” Katie texted back.

  “YOU DOING OK?”

  “BETTER THAN OK.” Then, instead of typing out the rest, she called to give Christy a quick summary of what had happened since Casa de Pedro. Katie ended by saying she was going to send Christy and Todd an invitation to the graduation party at Rick’s parents’ house.

  “I hope you send one to your parents too,” Christy said.

  “I will.”

  “And your brothers.”

  “I still only know where one of my brothers is.”

  “Then send one to him.”

  “I will. I’ve come to be at peace with quite a few things lately, including that I have to go with what I have and not to worry about what I don’t have. I mean, I still pray for Larry, but I can’t do anything about his taking off and not leaving contact information with anyone in the family. I know God is watching over him, wherever he is.”

  “That has to be tough, Katie.”

  “It is. But I can’t fix it, you know?”

  “Speaking of fixing things, you’ll never guess what we got yesterday.”

  “What?”

  “A new microwave. Finally. Why don’t you come over tonight and bring some of your garage sale popcorn? We’ll see if we can catch this one on fire too.”

  “Very funny. You’re too late, anyway. I threw out all the food I bought at that garage sale. I’m telling you, I’m a reformed woman, sitting in a cleanish dorm room with a load of clothes doing a little cha-cha in the washer.”

  “Then you’re free to come for dinner tonight.”

  “You didn’t say anything about dinner. What are you guys having?”

  “I don’t know yet. Todd should be home in about half an hour. Why don’t you come over? We can finish the conversation we started at Casa de Pedro.”

  “I could come there instead of going to the cafeteria. As a matter of fact, I could stop at Casa de Pedro on the way and pick up a couple of chimichangas.”

  “And two fish tacos,” Christy added. “Todd likes the fish tacos.”

  “Todd is a fish taco,” Katie said playfully.

  “For that comment, you now have to bring four fish tacos and ask them to add cilantro.”

  “Fine! Be that way, little Ms. Bossy Married Woman. I’ll be there in half an hour with way too much food for the three of us to eat, so you’d better have the table set.”

  “I’m on it this very minute. See you.”

  Katie sprang into action. With the best of intentions, she gathered up her laptop and the box of invitations so she could address them at Christy’s, if the opportunity occurred.

  Precisely thirty-four minutes later, Katie arrived on Christy and Todd’s apartment doorstep with too many items in her hands to knock. Instead she kicked the door and called out, “Candygram!”

  Todd opened the door and rescued the bags of food that were teetering in the crook of her arm.

  “Oh, that’s it, go for the fish tacos. Don’t save the laptop or the fancy invitations. By all means, save the whales!”

  From around the corner came another pair of helping hands, reaching for the invitation box as well as the shoulder strap of the case that held Katie’s laptop. The hands belonged to Eli.

  Katie gave him a generous grin. Then she turned to Christy and gave her an are-you-kidding-me? look.

  Christy appeared proud of herself. She sidled up to Katie and whispered, “You said on the phone you were bringing more food than three people could possibly eat.”

  Katie gave Christy an exaggerated scowl, but the
truth was she had almost expected this. And why not? She was the one trying to fix up Rick and Nicole. Why wouldn’t her friends try to pair her up with Eli? They wanted to show her kindness, and she knew she would be echoing the kindness if she went along with the plan. As long as Eli stayed his cool self, nobody would get hurt.

  Katie wasn’t going to rebound from one guy to another. She didn’t need a new boyfriend to make her feel good about herself. Nor was she in any hurry to date again. Her goal was to finish college. Then she would figure out what was next.

  For now, she was happy to be with friends who loved her, were looking out for her, and who wanted the same for Eli. These were her people. Julia had said it last week. This was Katie’s circle. Her community.

  She might as well relax and break bread with them in sweet communion.

  Or in this case, break burritos.

  17

  And what about this?” Katie said, holding up a fork as she sat across from Eli at Christy and Todd’s petite kitchen table. In front of them was a mess of leftover Mexican food wrappers.

  “Tenedor.” Todd jumped in with his answer before Eli had a chance.

  “Oh, man, I knew that one,” Eli said.

  “Too bad, so sad. You snooze, you lose. Todd wins yet again.” Katie leaned back in her chair and felt contentedly full from the grande chimichanga she had split with Christy.

  “Todd definitely remembers more Spanish words than you, Eli. What did the two of you do the whole time you were in Spain, besides not learn Spanish?”

  “Surfed,” Todd said.

  “We did more than that when I was there with you guys.” Christy cleared some of the mess on the table. “You know what those outreach trips were like, Katie. You were in Ireland while the three of us were in Spain, but we all were doing the same sort of outreach to the kids in the neighborhoods and at the open-air gatherings. Eli did a lot with the older boys. He led most of the morning devotions for the team too.”

  Katie looked at Eli. She wasn’t surprised by the outreach skills or that he gave devotions. She had heard him speak in chapel, and he had a commanding presence. His words were steady and intense, the way his staring habit had been when Katie first met him.

 
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