Coming attractions, p.23
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       Coming Attractions, p.23

           Robin Jones Gunn
 
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  “As many of you know, our family’s tradition is to offer a toast at celebrations, and this is definitely a celebration for my three friends. If you have a glass nearby, would you raise it with me in a toast?”

  Nearly everyone had a glass to lift.

  “Here’s to Eli Lorenzo, my excellent roommate, and to Nicki Sanders, my mother’s excellent design assistant, and to Katie Weldon, my once-girlfriend and now my excellent forever friend.”

  His gaze encompassed the gathered crowd. “Toast with me, will you? Congratulations to the graduates!”

  The guests cheered and took a sip of lemonade, iced tea, or whatever was in their glass, and the near spectacle between Katie and Marti dissolved. Conversations started up again. Some of the guests shuffled back into the other room. Eli was receiving lots of attention from a few older people, who were obviously friends of the Doyles.

  Rick, however, wasn’t done. He turned to Katie and said, “Will you go upstairs and wait for me in the room over the garage? I need to talk to you.”

  He then leaned closer to Marti where she stood with a glass of something sparkling in her hand. She was looking up at Rick, as if she weren’t sure exactly what had just happened. Katie watched as he tilted his chin and in his suave way took responsibility for not notifying Marti about the status of his relationship with Katie. Katie heard him offer to pay for any room deposits Marti had put down at the Yacht Club.

  Once again, Rick, there you go, being the perfect gentleman.

  Katie exited the dining room with her plate of finger foods in hand. She felt like she was doing something naughty, taking food out of the designated eating area and waiting for Rick upstairs.

  She went back to where she had left her purse and took it with her. This may not be the way she had hoped to set up a private time when she could give back the brooch, but with Rick, she had to take whatever time she could get with him.

  The room over the garage was a combination of a workout room with a treadmill and of a den with an old television and a loveseat.

  Katie didn’t have to wait long before she heard Rick coming up the stairs. When he appeared, he nearly filled the doorway.

  “Good save, Doyle. Has anyone told you your skills are being wasted in the field of sliced deli ham and mocha lattes? You should be an international negotiator. Or at the very least, a divorce lawyer.”

  By the look on his face, she couldn’t tell if he was going to scold her or take her compliments and wear them like a medal of honor.

  Katie decided to try her own attempt at redirecting the topic. “Hey, before you say whatever you’re going to say, I want to give this back. It’s your grandmother’s brooch. I’m sorry I didn’t get it to you sooner.”

  Rick took the box from her. “It’s okay. Thanks.”

  He seemed preoccupied with something. Katie guessed it was what had just happened with Aunt Marti.

  He crossed his arms. “Katie, I thought you and I should talk. I’m trying to do what’s right here for all of us. That’s what I’ve aimed for in our relationship all along, and I’m still aiming for that.”

  “I know, and I appreciate it, Rick. What you did downstairs in smoothing out what could have been a huge disaster with Marti was really great. Thanks. I’m sure Eli and Nicole appreciated being honored too.”

  “I hope so.” He looked nervous. “Listen, I have to tell you something. I’m not sure how to say this, so I’ll just say it. I’m having a difficult time being around her now that things aren’t the way they used to be between you and me.”

  Katie realized she was the one who had pressed Bob and Marti to come to her graduation. If she hadn’t done that, the confrontation in the dining room wouldn’t have happened. “Do you wish she hadn’t come?”

  “No,” Rick said quickly. “I want her here. She’s a big part of your life. That’s what makes it so complicated. When you and I were together, it wasn’t that hard to… I don’t know if this is the right word, but it wasn’t that hard to ignore her. Now whenever I’m around her, I go out of my way to avoid her because she…”

  “She drives you a little crazy, right?”

  “Exactly.” He looked relieved. “Katie, I hope you don’t mind my talking about this with you.”

  “No. Are you kidding? You can talk with me like this anytime you want. You said it yourself in the toast — you and I are forever friends.”

  He offered her a grin. “Thanks. I don’t know why I feel this way, but whenever I’m around her, I just…” Rick put out his hands as if at a loss for words.

  Katie filled in for him, transferring all her feelings about Aunt Marti to him. “You want to stuff an egg roll in her mouth and show her to the door. Believe me, I feel the same way.”

  Rick’s jaw went slack.

  “Why? What do you want to do when you see her?”

  “To be honest, I want to ask her out.”

  Katie nearly jumped off the loveseat. “You want to go out with Christy’s aunt? That’s twisted, Rick!”

  Rick took a step back. “Marti! You thought I was talking about Marti?”

  “Yes, of course. You said she drives you a little crazy; you try to ignore her when you’re in the same room. Who else would you be… Oh. Oh!”

  “Not Marti,” Rick said slowly.

  “No, not Marti,” Katie quickly agreed. She covered her mouth with her hand so she wouldn’t let out a small shriek.

  “I was talking about Nicki,” Rick said.

  “Right. I knew that. I was just trying to make a dumb joke about Marti. Scratch that joke off my list of stand-up material. It obviously bombed. Sorry. Bad choice. Bad, bad choice of comedy material. Won’t happen again.”

  Rick lowered himself into the old recliner in the corner of the room across from Katie. He looked irritated now, as if he really did believe Katie had been making a bad joke.

  “So, yeah.” Katie hoped they could keep talking about this. “Nicole. Or Nicki, as you call her. She’s great. But then, you know that. I think you should ask her out. I mean, it seems like you said, you’ve done a good job of ignoring her whenever she’s in the same room. So now maybe you should talk to her and see what happens.”

  “I want to do what’s right, Katie.”

  “This is right, Rick. Really, I’m sure this is quite right.”

  “I thought it would be wise to wait.”

  “Wait until what? Until she moves back to Santa Barbara and you have to drive five hours in traffic to see her?”

  “Is that what she’s doing? Did she decide? My mom said she hadn’t decided yet.”

  “She’s thinking about moving to Santa Barbara. She has this week to figure it out and then… who knows?”

  Rick rubbed the back of his neck. He always did that when he was stressed. Katie wished she could just spill the truth about how Nicole felt about him so he wouldn’t be so uptight about asking her out, or at the very least, talking to her about something other than the paint color in the men’s bathroom.

  “You know, I thought six months in between relationships would be a good space. Especially since you and I went together for so long. But now I’m thinking — ”

  “That’s your problem, right there, Rick Doyle. I mean, if you don’t mind my being blunt, you think too much. It’s time for you to go with your gut. Your heart, Rick. Go with your heart. I know your heart is steadfast. Listen to it. Love is a mystery. It can’t be planned. It comes on its own schedule. It’s inconvenient and organic, but that’s what makes it real. Really good relationships are the ones that come naturally and are unforced. Like waves.”

  Katie realized the words she used had all come from Eli.

  Rick looked surprised.

  Katie leaned forward. As long as she had Rick’s attention, she might as well tell him everything she was thinking. “Listen, Rick, I know that your goal in our relationship was to do everything right. And you did. You accomplished that goal. You were a wonderful boyfriend, and you did everything according to your head
. Your plan. Your logic. It worked.”

  “Thank you, Katie. Thank you for saying that.”

  “Now I’m telling you to move forward without a plan. Go, find Nicole, look into her eyes, and see what your gut tells you. What do you already know in your heart? Start from there and then go and do everything right from the heart out. Don’t do this one from your head.”

  Katie felt herself choking up as she added, “You two are already more knit together at the heart than you even realize. You’re just being too logical to see it. Don’t blow it, Doyle.”

  Rick looked stunned. He went over to where Katie was sitting. Offering her his hand, like a true gentlemen, he pulled her to her feet. Katie heard the sound of people coming up the stairs. If she and Rick had any last words to say to each other, this was their chance.

  Looking at her and gently smoothing down the side of her hair, Rick seemed to search her eyes for something.

  His touch felt foreign to her now. Tender, but not especially romantic. Katie didn’t feel an urge to kiss him, nor did she hope he would initiate a kiss with her. The close friendship remained. The romantic feelings had played themselves out.

  Whatever it was Rick seemed to be looking for in her eyes, he apparently didn’t find it. He nodded slowly, and in a nice, friendly soccer coach sort of move, he put both hands on Katie’s upper arms.

  “No, Rick, don’t!” Katie shrieked as Rick gave her upper arms a friendly squeeze.

  Todd, Christy, and Eli all stepped into the room as Katie crumbled back onto the loveseat in response to the pain in the tender flesh around her immunizations.

  Eli rushed over to her. He looked at Rick and then at Katie. “You okay?” Eli’s hand was on her shoulder, ready to comfort her.

  Katie lifted her babied left arm a few inches. “Yeah. It’s my arm. It’s still really sore. I had some shots yesterday, Rick. You didn’t know.”

  Rick gave Eli an eyebrow-raised look and said, “Anything else I don’t know?”

  “No,” Katie answered. “That’s all. Just a sore arm.”

  Rick was still looking at Eli. He dipped his chin. As if no one else were in the room, Rick said to his roommate, “You knew last summer, didn’t you?”

  Eli stared at Rick for a moment before responding with the slightest of nods.

  The two of them continued to size each other up. Katie wasn’t sure what was going on.

  Then Rick’s expression relaxed into one of his wry grins. “Well, it looks like we’re in agreement then, aren’t we, Katie? Both of us are ready to move on.”

  “I think we should move on downstairs,” Christy suggested. She had a little bit of her aunt Marti’s organizational nudge in her voice, only in a much more gracious way.

  “We want to take some pictures of everyone,” Christy said. “Who knows when we’ll all be together in the same place like this again?”

  The five of them exchanged flash glances in response to the reality that hung on Christy’s last statement. This was the end of a peculiar season for all of them.

  “We need pictures together.” Katie rose from the loveseat. “Lots of pictures.”

  26

  Katie spent the next three days feeling sicker than she had since Valentine’s Day. She perspired an unladylike amount. She barely ate. Her appetite was gone, and her stomach remained in knots.

  Blessedly, her on-duty hours were minimal, which gave her time to sort, organize, and pack her room. It also gave her time to work on where she was going to live and work. However, by Wednesday morning, Katie still hadn’t taken any steps to figure out her housing or her work. She was lost. Floating on a vast sea of possibilities in her tiny, buoyant raft of indecision.

  It seemed the only way to get unstuck was to talk things through with Julia. Trying to set a time with her was tricky because Julia was caught up in the dash of last-minute wedding details. Katie felt bad about that too, because she was the woman of honor, but she didn’t feel she was doing much assisting.

  Katie and several other RAs had hosted a successful shower for Julia, but that had been the sum total of Katie’s involvement with the wedding. Now the wedding was only three days away, and Katie had one self-imposed task remaining. She needed a dove.

  Her first call was to the pet store in Escondido where Christy had worked in high school. The store’s owner remembered Katie. Maybe a little too well. Why, she didn’t know.

  “Listen, Jon, I’m trying to find a dove. A nice, quiet one that will fly out of a bridal bouquet when I open the door of the cage. Can you help me out?”

  No response.

  “Hello? Jon, are you still there?”

  “You know, if this were anyone else calling, I would have hung up. But since it’s you, Katie, I believe this isn’t a prank call.”

  “Of course it’s not a prank call! I’m serious; I need a dove.”

  “Okay, not a problem. When can you pick it up?”

  “Really? You have one?”

  “I don’t have one in the store, but I can get one and have it here by next week.”

  “No, I need it right away. The wedding is Saturday.”

  “Saturday. That’s cutting it close.”

  “Yeah, I know. Story of my life. So what else is new? Can you get me the dove?”

  “I’ll work on it and call you back. By the way, who’s the lucky groom?”

  “His name is Dr. Ambrose. Well, John. John Ambrose.”

  “A doctor, huh? Good for you, Katie.”

  “No, I’m not getting married. I’m the maid of honor. Well, actually, the woman of honor. We decided ‘woman’ sounded better than ‘maid.’ ”

  “It’s all the same, isn’t it?”

  Katie was feeling irritated with Jon’s ribbing. She wasn’t a little high school girl in a Christmas elf costume anymore. She was a college graduate and felt she should be treated with more respect.

  “Just get me the dove, Jon, will you? By Friday at the latest.”

  “I’ll see what I can do.”

  Katie hung up, muttering to herself. She gathered her shower things and headed down the hall. When she entered the bathroom, Nicole was there, brushing her teeth.

  “Hey, grad,” Katie quipped. “Haven’t seen you for a couple of days.”

  Nicole demurely spit in the sink and rinsed out her mouth before turning to Katie with a hesitant expression. “I was avoiding you.”

  “Why?”

  Nicole raised an eyebrow. Her skin took on a soft glow. “Rick asked me out.”

  Katie dropped her towel and shampoo and lunged toward Nicole with a big bear hug. “Fantastic!”

  Nicole pulled away. “You’re sure you’re okay with this?”

  “Absolutely. Blessings on you, blessings on Rick, and blessings on all your future children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren!”

  Nicole scrutinized Katie’s expression more carefully. “You’re not having some reaction to all the immunizations, are you?”

  “No, I’m happy for you, that’s all. As of last night I stopped the sweats, by the way. I think my immune system met the tetanus, yellow fever, and typhoid challenge and won.”

  “Have you decided yet where you’re going to go?”

  “Not yet. What about you?”

  Nicole hesitated.

  “Why are you looking at me like that? Where are you going to live?”

  “Rick’s mom invited me to stay in their guestroom for the summer or until a permanent job opens up. She said I could help with the family business, if I wanted, and I said I would. I didn’t have anything else opening up. My parents talked it over with them at the graduation party, and they think it’s a good option.”

  “Wow.”

  Even though Katie was happy for Nicole, she was feeling twinges of regret. Or maybe they were touches of jealousy. If Katie and Rick still were together, Katie could see herself setting up camp in a luxurious guestroom at the Doyles’. She would have wonderful things to eat every day and lots of comfort. She would have
a stream of kindness and affirmation from Rick’s gracious mother, and Katie would belong.

  But she didn’t want to be absorbed into the expanding Doyle enterprises. Of that she was certain. There was nothing wrong with their wonderful and successful endeavors. The Doyles were a generous and kind family. But their world just wasn’t the one Katie wanted to live in long term.

  “That’s great, Nicole.” Katie hoped her expression matched her words and didn’t reflect the aftershocks rumbling through her heart as she spoke.

  “Thanks for being so supportive, Katie.”

  “So where is Rick taking you for your big first date, and when is it?”

  “It’s tomorrow night. We’re going to the opening of an art exhibit in San Diego and then to a restaurant at the top of a high-rise on the bay.”

  Katie gave a low whistle. “Swanky.”

  “He said to dress up.” Nicole smiled. “I might need some help deciding what to wear.”

  Katie had to draw the line there; her feelings were too tender to venture that deeply into Nicole and Rick’s relationship. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to help you out there, Nicole. I have a pretty tight schedule today. And tomorrow. And Friday too, for that matter. Then the wedding is Saturday, and by the way, I ruined my new dress during graduation. I have to come up with something else for the wedding.”

  “Can’t you have it dry cleaned?”

  “Maybe. But I’d rather get something else for the wedding.”

  “Do you want me to go shopping with you?”

  “No, that’s okay. I have to go down to Escondido later this week, so I thought I would have a look at the mall there.”

  “If you get stuck, you know you can borrow anything of mine that you want.”

  “Thanks.” Katie knew she was done borrowing Nicole’s clothes. Something strong and slightly sad had happened to her during this conversation. Even though she was in agreement that Rick and Nicole should go out, she didn’t feel quite the same about things like sharing clothes and secrets. When the day came that Rick kissed Nicole, Katie didn’t want to hear about it.

  “I’d better get rolling.” Katie made her way to the shower. “Have a great time on your date.”

 
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