Coming attractions, p.20
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       Coming Attractions, p.20

           Robin Jones Gunn
 
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  After an hour and a half, the low-key conversations and the closeness in the small space got to Katie. She left while the party was still going, saying she had laundry to do, which was true. Surprisingly, she stopped herself right before announcing to those gathered in the room that she really wanted to have clean underwear to wear to graduation. Instead, she slipped out of the room with her lips sealed.

  Note to self: Way to finally demonstrate a little prudence.

  Striding down the hall back to her room, Katie thought, So where were you, Miss Prudence and Miss Temperance, at the beginning of this year? You decided to show up a little late in my college career, didn’t you? Are you by chance a little graduation present for me? Feel free to stick around, will you?

  Once her clothes were in the washer, Katie returned to her room and loaded the photos from that morning onto her computer. She had promised her friend Sierra a nice long email before graduation day, and here Katie was, right down to the wire, as usual.

  Sierra and Katie had met in England several years earlier when both of them were volunteering with a mission outreach organization. It was the same organization Todd and Eli had signed up for when they met in Spain.

  After a year at Rancho, Sierra went to Brazil last summer and hadn’t come back. According to her last email, Sierra told Katie she didn’t plan to return to the States anytime soon. Originally intending to take some classes and do some outreach work, once Sierra had settled in with her host family and their church, she took a position helping a teacher teach English to high school students at a private school.

  Sierra loved what she was doing and, according to her bubbly reports, had learned to communicate in Portuguese, the language of her Brazilian students. She wasn’t fluent, but she could get by.

  Selecting three of the best sunrise photos, Katie attached them to her brief but newsy email to Sierra. Katie had a lot to cover, starting with her breakup with Rick, babysitting darling baby Daniel, and her new car. She left out any mention of Eli. She knew by the time she wrote Sierra again Eli would be only a lovely memory.

  With a push of the Send button, Katie looked at the clock: 1:15. As much as she wanted to step into one of her online social networks and check in on all her pals near and far, she turned off her laptop and turned out the lights. Her thoughts were all over the place, and she knew she needed sleep more than she needed any more socializing, real or virtual.

  By the next morning she felt she was getting her brain back.

  Christy called right after Katie returned to her room from her shower. “Good morning to my favorite college graduate! I wanted to be the first to congratulate you.”

  “Thanks, Chris. You guys are coming to the ceremony, aren’t you? It’s going to be in the gym.”

  “Yes, we’ll be there. Bob and Marti are coming too. I called Tracy last night, and she said she and Doug would try to make it. They weren’t sure Daniel could handle being quiet through the commencement service; so they might go directly to the Doyles’ house afterward. This is going to be so fun, being all together again!”

  “I know. I can’t wait. I have to dry my hair now. I’ll see you soon.”

  A few weeks ago, Katie and Nicole had managed to squeeze in a two-hour shopping trip. Katie found the perfect black dress to wear for Julia’s wedding and decided it would double for her graduation dress. Nicole talked her into some fun black shoes by saying, “You won’t be able to borrow my shoes that day because I’ll be wearing them.”

  With her hair dried, her dress on, her new shoes in place, and wearing just enough make-up to feel pretty, Katie tried to decide if she should add some jewelry. That’s when she remembered the expensive brooch Rick had presented to her. She needed to give it back.

  Tucking the box in her purse, Katie figured she could find a convenient time at Rick’s parents’ house that afternoon to return the brooch. She didn’t want to draw any attention to the transaction, so she knew she would have to be sensitive about the timing.

  Katie took the garment bag with her commencement gown and cap from the closet. Leaving her room in high spirits, she trotted down the hall to Nicole’s room, where she tapped on the door.

  “Bring out your graduates!” she called.

  Nicole opened her door. She had a quizzical look on her face.

  Katie knew that indecisive look. She immediately said the same sort of thing she had said to Nicole on other occasions. “You look wonderful. Don’t even think about changing. Come on. Let’s go.”

  “Are you sure? I had this skirt on earlier with this top and — ”

  “Nope. The dress you’re wearing is perfect. Let’s go.” Katie reached for Nicole’s garment bag containing her cap and gown.

  “But I was thinking — ”

  “Aha! That’s your problem right there. Don’t think. Go with your gut. Look at yourself in the mirror. Turn around. See? Do you look amazing? Go ahead. Say it.”

  “I do like this dress and the way it hangs from here. But…”

  “See? You like it! That’s your final answer. Go with it. Come on. Besides, you’re going to wear a generic robe over your dress for the first half of the day.”

  “I know, but at the party we won’t be wearing our robes.”

  “We could if we wanted to. We could start a new tradition.”

  “Okay, fine. I’ll go with this one.”

  “That’s the Nicole I was waiting for. Come on, grab your purse. It’s over there. You need anything else?”

  “Oh, I almost forgot.” Nicole reached for a gift bag. The striped bag had yellow and pink polka-dotted tissue paper peeking out the top.

  “For me? You shouldn’t have.”

  “No, sorry. It’s for Rick’s mom. A little thank-you gift.”

  Katie hadn’t even thought about buying a gift for Rick’s mom. She knew better too, because in the past social etiquette required that she show up with a thank-you gift whenever they went to his parents’ house for a special occasion. Nicole had joined them last Thanksgiving and presented Rick’s mom with the perfect potted flowers while Katie came with a too-large box of too-expensive, hand-dipped chocolates that Rick’s mom didn’t even open because she was trying to watch her weight.

  “And by the way,” Nicole added, “I signed the card from both of us.”

  “You did? Thanks, Nicole. You covered for me once again. You’re wonderful.”

  The two of them started down the hall.

  “So what did we buy her?”

  “Bath salts.”

  Katie laughed. “No, really, what did you get her?”

  “It’s a special sort of bath salts and lotion. The brand she likes is hard to find. I think it’s because the bath salts are from the Dead Sea.”

  Katie, who had never used bath salts in her life, knew she would never have come up with such a gift. Who knew salts from the Dead Sea, of all places, would constitute a highly valued gift?

  Katie thought about how Nicole fit so nicely with Rick’s family. Too bad Rick hadn’t yet come to that conclusion. She thought about going back on her original decision of not nudging him toward Nicole. It had been almost seven weeks since she had broken up with him. Rick and Nicole had been together on several occasions, but the dense Doyle hadn’t given any indication he was interested in her.

  Katie decided that when she took Rick aside to give him back the brooch, she would find a subtle way to find out what was going on. Not that subtle was one of her strengths.

  A sudden thought hit her. Maybe Rick hadn’t pursued Nicole because he was interested in someone else. Someone he had hired for the new café, perhaps. If that were the case, Katie wanted to know about it.

  As they approached the swarm of other graduates gathering by the side door of the gym, both Nicole and Katie stopped in their tracks.

  “Katie, I thought we were supposed to bring our gowns, not wear them.”

  All the grads standing there were capped and gowned.

  “I thought so too. We can put ours
on here and toss the hangers and bags in the bushes or something.”

  “We can’t leave our purses in the bushes. I don’t know what I was thinking, bringing my purse or this gift. We have to go back to the dorm. Fast!”

  “If we do, we’ll be late,” Katie said.

  “Not if we hurry. Come on!”

  The two friends took off for Crown Hall at an admirably fast clip, considering they were wearing not-so-comfortable shoes. They had just turned past the cafeteria when they saw another graduate in a cap and gown coming their way, riding on a white security golf cart.

  “Eli!” Katie waved her arm in the air. “Stop! We need a ride!”

  He pulled up, looking rather heroic in his flowing gown with the dark blue tassel on his cap swinging back and forth. His curly brown hair was doing a crazy jig under the tilted cap. His smile was just too cute.

  “I always knew one of these days you would come to appreciate my classy mode of transportation around campus.”

  “Drop it, Lorenzo. This is no time to gloat over, at long last, managing to talk two cute girls into going for a ride with you in your convertible. Now, put this baby in gear and drive us to Crown Hall as fast as you can!”

  It immediately became evident to all three of them that the cart wasn’t used to carrying so many passengers, especially while going uphill. They puttered along at a maddening sputter.

  “Seriously, Eli, is this the fastest your clown-mobile can go?”

  “Seriously, Katie, is that the best gripe you can come up with?”

  “Oh, no, I have plenty more gripes. Which do you want to hear first? How about the gripe that these brand news shoes already rubbed a blister on my heel? Or do you want to hear the gripe about my left arm? It’s so sore I can hardly lift it.”

  “Why is your arm sore?” Nicole asked.

  “I got some shots yesterday.”

  “What for?”

  “Yellow fever. Typhoid. Oh, and tetanus because it had been over ten years since my last tetanus shot.”

  “Why in the world would you get all those immunizations?” Nicole asked. “And why would you have them the day before graduation?”

  Katie shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

  Eli turned to Katie with a wide grin. He looked like the happiest kid on the planet.

  She knew that he knew what that combination of immunizations meant. She wished she had kept her mouth shut. It was too late now. Eli knew.

  Come on, Miss Prudence! Where are you when I need you? Try to keep up with me, will you?

  They were in front of Crown Hall then, and Nicole and Katie jumped off the cart to hurry to Nicole’s room.

  “Katie, I can’t believe you got all those shots at once! No wonder your arm is sore. Why in the world did you do that?”

  “I wanted to be prepared. The guy at the drugstore said they would be good for the next five years. Except for the tetanus. That’s good for ten years.”

  “You got those shots at a drugstore? Not at a doctor’s?”

  “The sign said they specialized in travel immunizations. The guy who gave me the shots said it cost a lot less than what they charge at a clinic or a doctor’s office. He said he gave shots all the time. Especially for older people who go on cruises to sketchy places around the world.”

  “Why would anyone go on a cruise to a sketchy place?” Nicole dismissed her own question and said, “Katie, I can’t believe you put all those diseases in your body at one time. Is your immune system up for that?”

  They had slipped into their graduation gowns and were sharing Nicole’s full-length mirror, trying to balance their caps just right on their heads.

  “I guess I’ll find out.”

  “So are you going on a cruise?”

  “No, I just thought I should catch up on all my immunizations in case I ever wanted to go on a last-minute missions trip to someplace like Malaysia or India.”

  Nicole turned to her and said, “Or Africa?”

  “Sure, Africa is a possibility. They have mosquitoes there, you know.”

  “And yellow fever.” Nicole leaned toward her until Katie had to give in and look at her. Nicole’s flawless skin made it easy to read every expression. This time it was her since-your-mother-never-told-you-this-I-get-to-be-the-one-to-nail-you-right-now look.

  “Don’t torture him, Katie. Eli’s feelings for you are so obvious. You have to know that he’s smitten with you big time. Please.” Her voice grew softer. “I know a thing or two about feelings of love that aren’t returned. So, please, don’t give him hope like that unless you mean it.”

  Katie felt the weight of Nicole’s velvet hammer. If they had had any more time, Katie would have let a tear break free from the fortress she had built around her heart.

  But they had no time. Nicole knew it as well.

  “Promise me,” Nicole said firmly. “Promise me you won’t mess with Eli’s feelings.”

  Katie nodded. “I promise.”

  “Good. Now lean over.” Nicole reached for Katie’s cap. “You need to tip it down more in the front. Like that. No, here, let me do it. Hand me some of those bobby pins. There. You ready? Let’s go.”

  They hurried down the hall and through the lobby, each with her robe flapping and a hand on top of her cap. Katie couldn’t help but think how fitting it was that she was running so she wouldn’t be late for graduation. That summarized her entire senior year.

  Eli was waiting in the cart. “We’ll pick up some speed going downhill. Hold onto your hats.”

  Katie didn’t place a hand on her cap the way Nicole did. The cart picked up speed, but certainly nothing impressive. The bobby pins did their job, or Katie would have had to run back uphill to retrieve her cap as the golf cart dashed down to the gym.

  Eli parked in one of the campus security zones around the back of the gym. The three of them ran to their spots in line where the rest of their classmates were already in alphabetical order.

  “Cutting it a little close there,” one of the organizers said as Katie slid into the back of the three other Ws, followed by one Y and two Zs. The students were already walking into the gym. Nicole was in place with the rest of the Ss, but Katie couldn’t see if Eli had made it in with the Ls.

  She felt a surge of anticipation. Or maybe it was just the adrenaline from the last fifteen minutes. Whatever it was, Katie felt as if she were sweltering under the long robe. The warm air inside the gym and all her bundled up feelings made her feel faint. She never had been a swooner, but at the moment she wished she had a fan or a drink of water.

  The chairs for the graduates lined the center of the gym floor, while the photo-snapping guests were on the perimeter as well as filling the bleachers. It was a full house. Katie looked around and knew it would be impossible to spot any of her friends. She was just grateful to be in place, standing in front of her assigned chair when the dean of Rancho Corona opened the ceremony with a welcome and a prayer.

  Then everyone was seated. The best part was, since Katie’s last name started with W, she could sit for a long time before she had to rise again. The choir sang beautifully. A short man in a long robe gave a speech and ended by telling the graduates they could accomplish anything they put their hearts and minds to, by the grace of God. One of last year’s graduates played the piano while a graduate from this year sang a solo. The applause was invigorating.

  Katie kept looking around. She couldn’t see where Eli was sitting, but she had settled with herself during the ride down the hill that she was going to keep her distance from him physically and emotionally. Everything Nicole said was right. It wasn’t fair for Katie to say or do anything that would boost his hopes.

  Her scanning had moved on into the bleachers. She wanted to find Christy and Todd or maybe Uncle Bob. But so far she hadn’t spotted them in the masses.

  The president of the university took his place at the podium to give his final thoughts before the graduates stood row-by-row and walked onstage to receive their
diplomas. Katie gave up looking for her friends and turned her attention to the stage.

  The first row of graduates stood and vacated their chairs. Katie watched them walk toward the stage and felt a sense of satisfaction rising inside her. In a few moments she would be walking up there too, to receive her diploma. She had done it!

  Now that some of the grads had stood, Katie could see the attentive family and friends seated on the ground level in the first few rows. She knew those people had to have come at least two hours before the ceremony because no seats were reserved for guests. The people in those rows were the parents with either the most patience or the most pride in their sons or daughters. Maybe the families felt a combination of both.

  Suddenly Katie stopped smiling. She blinked and leaned forward as far as she could to see more clearly. There was no mistake.

  Seated in the first seats in the front row were the last two people she expected to see. Her mother and father.

  23

  Katie was a mess. She had held in her feelings… well, for most of her life. Long ago she had told herself, If you don’t care, then you can’t be hurt. That was perhaps the strongest lesson her mother had taught her without ever saying a word.

  Yet here was Vivian Weldon, breaking all her own rules, sitting in the front row with Katie’s dad, demonstrating their unspoken pride and care for their only daughter.

  Katie let the tears come. She didn’t care who saw her. Let them think she was happy to be graduating.

  She watched as her classmates walked across the stage. She applauded and kept wiping her tears on her robe’s sleeve. When it came to the Ls, Katie watched Eli take strong, confident steps to accept his diploma. She smiled, cried, applauded, and laughed a little when she heard Eli’s Ghanaian friend, Joseph, from somewhere in the bleachers let out a wild whoop.

  All the while, Katie thought of how her parents were waiting for her to stride across the stage. This, their presence, might be the single best gift her parents had ever given her.

 
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