Coming attractions, p.21
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       Coming Attractions, p.21

           Robin Jones Gunn
 
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  Katie clapped when the name “Nicole Sanders” was called. She wasn’t the only one. Nicole seemed to receive more applause than any student so far. In the mix, Katie thought she heard one of Rick’s shrill whistles. It made her smile softly because she could whistle better than Rick and had on several occasions tried to teach him how to improve his feeble skills.

  The row in front of Katie stood. The guy who had been seated directly in front of her glanced at her right before marching off. She knew him from the coed softball games she had been involved with her first year at Rancho. He broke into a grin when he looked at her. “That’s a good one, Weldon.”

  She had no idea what he meant. Nor did she have time to try to spout out some joke about their softball days.

  When her row was to stand. Katie composed herself. She checked that her cap was in place just as Nicole had arranged it for her. Her gown was zipped up all the way. Her tears had stopped. She still could feel the dampness of the sleeve that had doubled as a tissue, but she didn’t care. All she had to do was walk down the aisle, go up the steps without tripping, shake with her right hand, receive the diploma with her left hand, and make it down the steps on the other side of the stage.

  This was her moment. Every step signified success. She denied herself the pleasure of looking over at her parents when she reached the end of the row. Her emotions were right on the edge, and she didn’t want to do anything that could cause her to burst into tears.

  Looking straight ahead, Katie made it up the steps in her new shoes. She felt like a pageant princess, floating across the stage to the podium. She waited one, two, three seconds. Then, right on cue, her name was called.

  Katie held out her right hand, shook with the president of Rancho Corona University, received her diploma in her left, and suddenly was aware of the applause for two reasons. The first was because her brain clicked into the sound of clapping, with some whistles and a Ghanaian whoop thrown in. The second reason was because of the stunned and almost disapproving expressions on the faces of the president and the professor who handed her the diploma.

  At the beginning of the ceremony, a request was made that all applause be held until the end, but after the first two or three students, someone sneaked in a cheer, and after that, everyone applauded for his or her favorite graduate. It was a tradition.

  Katie couldn’t tell because her heart was pounding in her ears, but perhaps she was receiving more applause than other students, and therefore her friends and family were overzealous in their violation of the no-clapping request.

  She wasn’t sure why she was met with not-so-masked expressions of disapproval, but at that moment, it didn’t matter. She had her diploma in hand! Raising it high and giving a wave, she turned to the audience and let out a modest but meaningful, “Woo-hoo!”

  Several people laughed, and a few pointed. That was puzzling because a couple of the students had done their own controlled version of a happy dance as they exited the stage, so Katie knew she wasn’t overdoing her celebratory expression. Let the faculty look at her with disdain. Let the audience laugh and point. She didn’t care. She was a college graduate!

  Returning down the aisle, Katie felt as if all other grads’ eyes were on her. She beamed and waved her diploma at Nicole when she made eye contact with her.

  Nicole looked stunned. She pointed to her cheek and then anxiously pointed at Katie.

  Katie touched her cheek. She didn’t have anything stuck to her face. What was Nicole trying to say?

  By the time Katie was back at her seat, the remaining students had gone through the line, and the dean had returned to the podium. He asked all the graduates to rise. In the solemn moment, all the graduates did as they had been instructed the day before in practice. They reached for the tassels on their caps, moved them to the other side, and recited in unison Psalm 23, which had been selected for their class at the beginning of the year during senior chapel. Katie stood with her chin up and recited boldly with the rest of her class.

  “ ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.’ ”

  The sound of so many voices as they recited the rest of the chapter was powerful in the echoing gym. This was Katie’s favorite tradition in Rancho Corona graduation ceremonies. Now she, a graduate, was participating in the recitation of her class’s closing benediction.

  When the grads reached the final lines of “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” Katie quickly pulled out the bobby pins from her cap. As soon as the final words, “dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” were uttered, the graduating class was introduced to the audience. Then all the caps were tossed into the air.

  A happy flurry of cheers broke out as the guests were reminded to exit the side doors to meet with their graduates out on the lawn and not in the gym.

  Katie watched her tossed cap as it came down. She snatched it and looked around.

  “Way to go, Katie!” one of her friends said.

  Another patted her on the back. “I knew if anyone could pull a prank, it would be you.”

  The guy next to her said, “Subtle but point made. Were you going for linebacker or quarterback?”

  Katie had no idea what any of them were talking about.

  Just then she felt someone grab her arm. It was Nicole.

  “Hey, congratulations!” Katie went to hug her, but Nicole nearly knocked over a chair pulling Katie away from her seat.

  “Katie, your face! Come with me. Right now. Don’t look at anyone. Just keep going.”

  “What’s wrong?”

  “I’ll show you in a minute.”

  Nicole pressed through the massive crowd and headed for the workout room restrooms on the side of the gymnasium instead of the more obvious ones at the front that probably would be packed. Nicole practically shoved Katie into the restroom and pointed at the mirror.

  Katie turned to look, and her mouth dropped open. Across both cheeks were dark black patches that resembled the black “war paint” football players wore. Hers wasn’t subtle. It was dark and wide across her cheeks.

  “What happened?” Katie reached for a paper towel.

  Nicole turned on the warm water and wet the paper towel. “Look!” Nicole pointed to a dark swirl in the sink. The sleeve of Nicole’s robe had tagged the stream of water from the faucet when she wet the paper towel. As she squeezed the sleeve to wring it out, the dye from the robe created a dark puddle in the sink.

  “I was crying,” Katie said, holding up her sleeve. “I used my sleeve for a tissue.”

  “You must have been crying a lot.”

  “I was. Nicole, my parents are here.”

  “So are mine. Come on; try to hurry.” Nicole then seemed to catch on to what Katie had said. “Wait. Your parents are here? Katie! Wow.”

  “I know. Help me scrub this off. I can’t believe this. Now I know why I was getting the dirty looks. I can’t imagine what the president and the dean thought of me. Oh, man!”

  Nicole helped her to scrub. Even with the liquid soap and warm water, not all of the stain came off. But at least it was down to looking like a shadow and not a bold stripe.

  “When we go back to my room to pick up our purses and the gift, I have some mineral powder that will cover that up. But for now, we really need to get out on the lawn and have pictures taken before everyone leaves.”

  They hurried out the back way, and the first person Katie saw was Eli. He was standing with Joseph, Shiloh, and their little daughter, Hope. Katie waved at Joseph and Shiloh, and they both waved back.

  As soon as Eli saw Katie, he strode across the field to her, wrapped both arms around her, and gave her a tight hug. Eli had never hugged her like that, and all she could think was, Wow, this guy can hug!

  He smelled good too.

  In her ear he said, “Congratulations, Katie girl.”

  “Thanks.” She pulled back, feeling red in the face
for several reasons. “Congratulations to you too.”

  “Thanks.”

  Looking over the top of his head, she said, “My parents are here somewhere.”

  “They are? Katie, that’s amazing! Where are they?”

  “I don’t know. I have to find them.”

  “I’ll go with you.”

  “No, that’s okay. You have people here for you.” Katie turned and saw that Joseph and Shiloh had moved on through the crowd. That’s when it struck her. Eli had no one else here for him.

  “Actually, Eli, why don’t you come with me? Maybe my parents found Rick or Todd and Christy.”

  Nicole had disappeared into the massive group. It was just Eli and Katie wandering through the sea of people. They were separated while trying to move past a large group in the midst of organizing family photos with twin girls who had graduated. Katie instinctively put out her hand behind her and motioned for Eli to follow a little closer.

  Eli took her flapping hand in his and held it tight. His hand felt rough and stronger than she would have imagined.

  Right on cue, the herd of buffalos showed up and stampeded through her gut. Katie would have dropped Eli’s hand except she felt paralyzed. Or maybe it was more like hypnotized. She couldn’t let go. Actually, she could let go, but she didn’t want to.

  Eli was the one who released the grip as soon as they were past the human traffic jam and into a good spot to view the open area.

  “There’s Todd.” Eli pointed to the left.

  Katie saw Uncle Bob and Aunt Marti standing with Todd and Christy. Rick was with them, as were Nicole and her parents. But she didn’t see her parents anywhere. Her heart was still fluttering.

  “I hope they didn’t leave.” Katie told herself the fluttering was due to the nervousness she felt over seeing her parents. Or maybe it was the effects of the immunizations.

  “Were they planning to go to the party? Maybe they went on to the Doyles’ house.”

  “I doubt it.”

  Katie bit her lower lip and tried to think like her parents would. This sort of crowd would be way too much for them. Even though the announcement had been given for everyone to congregate on the field, Katie suspected her parents would have stayed away from the crowds.

  “Maybe they’re still in the gym.”

  Before Katie could decide if her conclusion was a good possibility, Eli had taken her once again by the hand. This time he was leading the way back to the gym with swift steps. Katie let him lead her and mentally told herself, This doesn’t mean anything. We’re just trying to move through the crowd on a hunt for my parents.

  Eli led Katie to the front opening of the gym and let go of her hand. She felt the rush of his warmth and support leave her at the very moment she saw her mother.

  Dressed in the same floral dress Katie had seen her wear ten years ago, Vivian Weldon stood by the wall with both hands on her pocketbook, as if someone might snatch it from her, here on the campus of this nice Christian university.

  Katie tried to form the simple word Mom, but nothing came out. Deep emotions tugged at her, causing her lips to curl up into a vulnerable, little-girl smile. With ten deliberate steps forward, she stood, dressed in her graduation robe with her hat in her hand and the little girl wiggly smile frozen on her lips, in front of her mother.

  Her mom looked up, startled, almost as if she hadn’t expected to see her daughter in that moment.

  “You came. You came to my graduation.”

  Her mother didn’t seem to know what to do with the greeting. “Well, you sent us an invitation.”

  “I know. But you didn’t have to come, and you did. Thank you.”

  “We’re not going to the party,” her mom stated. “Your father hasn’t been feeling well. I think it’s his gallbladder. He’s in the restroom. The women’s restroom had a terrible line. There always is. I see you took the ink off your face. What were you doing, trying to play a joke?”

  Katie’s spirits plummeted, and so did her smile. “No. I was crying. I used my gown’s sleeve, and the dye came off on my face. I didn’t know it was there. Honest.”

  “Well, why would the color come off? Do they recycle the robes by redying them?”

  “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter about the robe. The point is I wasn’t trying to be funny or anything. It was an accident.”

  “You certainly are the one for accidents, aren’t you?”

  Katie tried to brush aside the old, familiar jab. She drew in a deep breath and glanced over her shoulder. Eli was still standing in the doorway of the gym. He wasn’t alone, though. He was talking to Julia and her fiancé, Dr. Ambrose.

  “Mom, come with me. I want you to meet some of my friends.”

  “I told your father I would wait right here for him. I’m not going to move.”

  “Okay, I’ll bring them here.” Katie swished over to Julia’s side. “I’d really love for you guys to come meet my mom.”

  The three of them followed Katie over to the wall across from the men’s restroom where her mother stood, still clutching her purse with both hands.

  “This is my friend Eli, my RD, Julia, and…” Katie tried to decide if she should say, “Dr. Ambrose” or “Julia’s fiancé,” when she introduced the third member of the trio.

  Eli took the decision away from Katie by picking up the introductions from there and saying, “This is my uncle, John Ambrose.”

  “Your uncle?” Katie turned to Eli in surprise.

  Eli nodded.

  Dr. Ambrose was wearing his impressive-looking robe with professor’s cap and doctoral ribbons. He shook hands with Katie’s mom. “You must be quite proud.”

  Katie’s mom looked flustered. Her curly hair had gone gray over the years, and she kept it short in a puff. Her face was long, and her glasses were the same round saucer style she had worn for as long as Katie could remember.

  In response to Dr. Ambrose’s question, Vivian Weldon put her nose a little higher in the air. “I thought pride was a sin for you Christians.”

  Right then and there Katie knew the three of them had been given a glimpse into her life. Before Dr. Ambrose or any of them could respond, Katie’s dad came out of the restroom using a cane.

  “Hi, Dad.” Katie greeted him cautiously. “Is your knee acting up again?”

  “It’s my feet. Didn’t your mother tell you? I have something wrong with my heels. Walking all the way here from the parking lot just about did me in.”

  “I can give you a ride back to the parking lot,” Eli said. “I work for campus security. I can take you in the golf cart.”

  “I’m ready to go now,” Katie’s dad said. “Where’s the cart?”

  “I’ll bring it around right up front.”

  “Thanks, Eli,” Katie said as he turned to go. He glanced at her over his shoulder and gave her a grin. A wonderful, warm, forever-friend sort of grin. Katie wished she had a photo of him just then, whooshing out the door, still wearing his robe, hair every which way and a great twinkling light in his eyes. That’s the picture she would like to have taken and sent to his parents with a note saying, “You have a wonderful son. I wish you could have been here to see him graduate. You would be proud of him.”

  Somehow, Katie knew Eli’s parents would be proud. They wouldn’t snap back with statements about pride being a sin.

  Turning to her parents, Katie remembered how Eli said that forgiving his attacker was a process. Katie knew she had forgiven her parents last summer. Julia had been there with her. But this felt like yet another step in the process. Without reservation, Katie breathed out her disappointment and frustration over her mother’s comment to Dr. Ambrose. She breathed in and hoped the fresh air would give her an equally fresh feeling in her spirit.

  Katie looked at her disgruntled mother and her father, who was obviously in a lot of discomfort, and decided this was a graduation moment for her of another sort. Stepping closer to her mother, Katie gingerly wrapped her arms around her and gave her a small ki
ss on the cheek.

  Taking a step over to her dad, Katie wrapped her arms around him more tightly. He responded by patting her on the back, as if she were a great big dog and had just fetched a duck.

  Katie put that image out of her mind and said in his ear, “I really appreciate your coming, Dad. Thank you. It means a lot to me.”

  Both her parents appeared to be touched by her expressions of affection, yet neither of them seemed to know how to respond. That wasn’t unusual. Katie, though, felt that the way she was acting right now was the closest she had been to her real self since she was very young.

  “I have my camera with me,” Julia said. “I was wondering if the three of you would like a picture taken together.”

  “Not by the bathroom,” Katie’s mom spouted.

  “How about over here?” Katie walked seven feet away to a big, blank wall. It was boring as a background, but at least her mom couldn’t complain.

  With some effort her parents came over to where Katie stood. She wiggled her way in between them and put her cap back on.

  “Make sure you put the tassel on the correct side,” her mom said.

  “Very observant, Mother. Thank you.” Katie made the switch and gave Julia a big grin.

  Julia took several shots and said she would make sure Katie got copies so she could send them to her parents. Julia and Dr. Ambrose slid out, leaving Katie and her parents alone in the gym entrance. Katie knew Christy and the others must be wondering what had happened to her. She wished she had brought her phone so she could at least text them.

  It didn’t matter. Eli was at the door in the golf cart, and Katie could see him coming toward them, ready to usher her parents to the parking lot.

  With one final opportunity in front of her before the curtain closed on this moment, Katie remembered how Eli had said that real love comes from the heart. It’s spontaneous, organic, and not planned. He also said love was inconvenient.

  Katie turned to her parents, and with a deep and sudden sincerity rising in her voice, she said, “I love you, Mom. I love you, Dad. Thank you so much for coming.”

 
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