Coming attractions, p.3
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       Coming Attractions, p.3

           Robin Jones Gunn
 

  “We can talk about all this later,” he added.

  Katie didn’t have the energy to say another word. She felt as if she couldn’t remember what had really happened that evening and what she had imagined in her cotton-stuffed head.

  3

  How long did you have it?” Christy, Katie’s best friend, was seated across from her at the Dove’s Nest Café. The table they shared was a familiar one. It was here, in this first café that Rick and his brother opened almost a year and a half ago, that Christy’s husband, Todd, proposed to her. It was also here, while Christy, Todd, and the gang were seated at this same table, that Rick emerged from the back kitchen and surprised them all since none of them knew he was working there as the manager. From that night on, Rick and Katie had been together.

  When Rick offered Katie a job at the Dove’s Nest, she took it and worked as many hours as she could, not only perfecting her skills at making turkey, bacon, and avocado wraps, but also perfecting her relationship with Rick. Christy worked in the adjacent bookstore, the Ark. This was one of those rare afternoons when Katie managed to find enough time to meet up with Christy on her lunch break.

  “I had the flu the standard two weeks, like everyone else,” Katie said. “Although I only stayed in bed four or five days. I’m sure I was still contagious when I went back to class, but, seriously, I can’t miss anything during these next ten weeks. I’m on a crazy crash course, headed for commencement, and no flu bug is going to stop me. Besides, I’m certain everyone on campus had the flu long before I did. As always, I was a late bloomer. Isn’t that what your aunt called me one time?”

  Christy shrugged. “I don’t know what she called you. I make it a practice to let go of all Aunt Marti’s little jabs as soon as I can. Who cares what she said about you, anyway? I want to hear what Rick said. What happened after he left your room that night?”

  “Nothing. I’ve only seen him once since Valentine’s Day. We call and text every day, but he hasn’t brought it up, and neither have I.”

  “So, if he said he wasn’t planning to propose, what was he going to give you? And why could he only give it to you on Valentine’s Day?”

  “I have no idea.” Katie leaned closer and lowered her voice just in case any of the nearby diners could hear their conversation. Too many people in this café and bookstore space knew Rick and his family. She wanted to keep this private.

  “I’ve thought about it a lot since that night — that fevered, awkward night — and I’m ready to say yes to him, whatever sort of proposal scenario he comes up with.”

  Christy raised her eyebrows. “Really?” Her distinct blue green eyes expressed the questions Katie knew Christy wanted to ask.

  “Yes. I love him. I know I do. I think we could deal with all the challenges that seem to come with our relationship. We’ve been working things out for a year and a half now. I think we can get ourselves in sync much easier after I graduate and after he opens the cafés.”

  Christy didn’t agree or disagree. She gazed at Katie and quietly nibbled her Tuscan salad. Then she held her fork midway between her plate and her closed lips, a skewered mandarin orange awaiting her full attention.

  “What? You don’t think we’re ready?”

  Christy swallowed the bite in her mouth before putting down her fork. “I don’t know.”

  “You don’t know what?”

  “I don’t know how to respond to questions about you and Rick. I haven’t seen him in months, even though we live in the same apartment complex. I haven’t seen the two of you together since the Christmas party, and that was a crazy night. I’m not the one to offer validation of your relationship.”

  “I’m not looking for validation.” Katie frowned, irritated that her best friend wasn’t jumping in and expressing excitement. When Christy was only an inch away from engagement, Katie felt certain she had been a bundle of support and enthusiasm. At least she thought so. It now seemed so long ago. Had it only been a year?

  Christy leaned forward and lowered her voice, looking Katie in the eye. “All I’m saying is that marriage is hard. Harder than I thought it would be. Especially when both of you are working all the time and can’t see each other long enough to finish a conversation. If there’s any way you guys could be a little more established financially, that would help too. That’s all I’m saying. If you can wait a little while, then wait.”

  “We’re doing okay financially.”

  Christy’s expression made her disagreement clear. “Katie, you don’t even have a car.”

  “I know, but I’m going to buy one. I’ve been waiting.”

  “Waiting for what? Money for the down payment? I don’t mean to be so negative, but that’s the same thing Todd and I said over a year ago, and here we are, still sharing one car. It’s so expensive, especially with the insurance.”

  “I have the money.”

  Christy looked at Katie as if she didn’t believe her.

  “I have the money,” Katie repeated. “I’ve been meaning to tell you. There just never was a good time, and, to be honest, I’m not sure this is the right time. But here it is. My great-aunt passed away and left me some money. I have it set aside in a savings account.”

  With a tilt of her head, Christy’s nutmeg brown hair fell to the side. “Your great-aunt passed away? I don’t remember hearing you say anything about her. When did she pass away?”

  “Last year some time. Spring, I think. I don’t remember. The whole thing is strange, but then, welcome to my life. She wanted her money to go to anyone in her extended family who was attending college, and believe it or not, I’m the only one the lawyer could track down.”

  “Katie, that’s incredible! I’m sorry to hear about your great-aunt, though.”

  “I know. I never met her, so that’s what makes this even more odd.”

  “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me any of this.”

  “I meant to. I got the money last fall and intended to put some of it toward a car right away, but my schedule was busy, and ever since Baby Hummer coughed her last gasket, I’ve developed the habit of asking people for rides. It turned out to be a good way for me to have time set aside with them. I put the money away and kept borrowing cars or getting rides.”

  Christy leaned back. “You never stop surprising me. I have this feeling you and I will be ninety years old, sitting in rocking chairs, not a single tooth left in our mouths, and you’ll pop out with some significant little fact I’ve never known about you.”

  Katie took another bite of her Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza, wondering how much she should tell Christy about the inheritance. The details were more surprising than she was letting on. Katie’s resident director, Julia, was the only one who knew that Katie secretly used part of the money to start the fund-raiser for clean water for Africa.

  Katie also had used some of the money to bless one of the international students at the university. His name was Joseph, and he was a friend of Eli’s. Joseph’s wife and daughter were living in their village in Ghana, West Africa, while Joseph completed his studies in California. Katie changed all that by arranging for them to join Joseph at Rancho Corona and live with him in the married-student apartments.

  Christy leaned forward. “What about your tuition? I mean, I agree that transportation is essential, and since you’ve been given this money, a car would be a great thing to spend the inheritance on. But did you consider putting some of it toward your school bill so you don’t end up with a lot of debt when you graduate?”

  Katie chose her words carefully. She had already paid off her tuition and was going to graduate debt free. She also anonymously paid off Eli’s tuition. She knew she wanted to help out another student, and Eli seemed like a good candidate since he was working his way through college just like Katie. Student services took care of the details, and Eli never mentioned receiving the funds, nor did Katie hint at it. Giving in secret filled up a part of Katie she hadn’t even known was empty.

  To clarif
y her financial situation with Christy all she said was, “I have my school bill figured out. Buying a car is at the top of my list.”

  “Mine too,” Christy said wistfully.

  Katie put her straw up to her lips in an effort to keep her mouth busy so she wouldn’t blurt out anything.

  Katie’s original plan was to take Christy with her car shopping and, as a huge surprise, buy two cars. One for her and one for Christy. She hadn’t priced any used cars yet, but she felt confident she could stretch what she had budgeted for a car to buy two used ones instead of one new vehicle.

  Sitting across from Christy, Katie had a feeling it would be too much of a strain on their friendship if Katie gave her a car. Christy was used to receiving expensive items from her wealthy aunt and uncle, but Katie had watched how the weight of those gifts had affected Christy’s relationship with her aunt. Not that the gift of a used car would necessarily damage Christy and Katie’s relationship, but she realized now how awkward it would be. People would find out that Katie had received a chunk of money. Way more money than she ever had let on, but, still, it would be clear that she inherited enough money to buy two cars. That in and of itself was extraordinary enough to start people asking questions. Rick still didn’t know anything about the money. How would all that settle with him?

  She hadn’t realized how complicated this might be.

  “Are you okay?” Christy waved her hand in front of Katie. “You got awful quiet.”

  “Sorry. My brain just took a little walk. It’s back now. What were we talking about?”

  “You were saying you wanted to buy a car.”

  “Yes, I do. Do you want to go with me?”

  “Sure. Do you know when Rick is available?”

  “Rick? Why?”

  “I thought you would want to include him in the process. It’s a pretty big investment. I mean, if you guys are close to getting engaged, collaborating on a decision like a car would seem like a normal thing to do.”

  “I could ask him. I don’t know, though. Last December, when he was looking for a new car, I only went with him on the first car-hunting trip. Within the first three minutes, I realized he and his dad saw the experience as a father-son outing. After that I didn’t invite myself on any jaunts. He really likes the car he ended up with, which is good, considering how many hours he spends living in it now. I miss his Mustang, though.”

  “He still has it, doesn’t he?”

  “Yes. He parked it in his parents’ garage. He doesn’t plan to drive it anymore, though. He told me I could borrow it anytime I wanted, but I didn’t ever feel that was right. I was more comfortable borrowing Eli’s or Nicole’s car. Although, I have to say, that Mustang has a lot of memories connected to it. I loved that car. It was such a classic. Such a symbol of who Rick was in high school, you know?”

  Christy smiled.

  “Yeah, you know. I know you know.” Plopping down her drink, Katie said, “Oh, Christy, the roads you and I have traveled together, my friend.”

  “And the many more we have yet to travel… in your new car!”

  “I’m planning to buy a used car.”

  “Still, it will be new to you.” Christy checked the time on her cell phone. “I have to get back to work. Let me know when you want to go car hunting, and I’ll go with you. Oh, and Tracy asked me if I would consider babysitting for them. If you have time, do you want to come with me?”

  “I could be persuaded.”

  “I’ll take care of Daniel. You can use the time to study. I thought it would be fun for us to drive to Carlsbad together and maybe go for a walk on the beach afterward.”

  “That sounds so perfect right now. Especially since the weather is warming up. I would love to go with you. Let me know the details, and I’ll check my on-duty hours. I owe Nicole a boatload of hours since she covered for me while I was sick. It’s a good thing she’s such a generous woman.”

  Christy rose, gave Katie a quick hug, and returned to the bookstore side of the building.

  Katie took the opportunity to check her cell phone directory. To her surprise, she still had Aunt Marti’s number on her phone. It had been there ever since the frenzied days of planning Christy’s wedding a year ago.

  Returning to the parking lot, Katie slipped into the driver’s seat of Nicole’s car and closed the door. She pressed the button for Aunt Marti’s cell phone and waited for her to answer. When her voicemail came on, Katie hung up. She didn’t want to leave a message. As a matter of fact, she didn’t really want to talk to Aunt Marti. Christy’s uncle Bob was the one she wanted to talk to.

  Katie found Uncle Bob’s number on her phone, pressed the button, and cleared her throat. Christy’s easygoing uncle answered on the second ring. The first thing Katie asked was if Aunt Marti was nearby.

  “Nope. She’s at lunch with some friends at the club. Do you want her number?”

  “No, I wanted to talk to you.”

  “Sure. What’s up?”

  “I need your help on something that might be a little complicated.”

  “You got it. What can I do?”

  Katie loved Uncle Bob almost as much as she was sure Christy loved him. The man was so good-natured and caring. She felt certain she could trust him and rolled through her less-than-fully-formed plan to buy Christy and Todd a car.

  “Let me get this straight,” Uncle Bob said. “You want to give me money to buy a new car for Christy and Todd but let them think the money came from me.”

  “Yes. But it’s a used car not a new car.”

  “Right. A used car.”

  “Can you help me do that?”

  “Actually, no. I can’t.”

  That wasn’t the answer Katie expected. “Why not?”

  “I can help you find a good used car. That part isn’t a problem. But I can’t let them think the money came from me.”

  “Why not?”

  Uncle Bob laughed. “That would be dishonest.”

  Katie frowned. For a moment she wished she had tried going through Aunt Marti with this plan. Katie felt certain Aunt Marti wouldn’t have a problem hiding, changing, or embellishing the truth. As a matter of fact, Aunt Marti was gifted in such matters.

  “I’m not asking you to lie. I just don’t want them to know the money came from me.”

  “And why not? They would appreciate knowing the truth. Tell Christy and Todd your aunt left you some money, and you want to use it to buy them a second car. That’s clean and honest. No mysteries to try to keep covered.”

  “I was going to do that, but then I thought it might get too complicated when other people find out I have that much money. Right now only two people know I received an inheritance. Christy is one of those people, but she doesn’t know much.”

  “Katie, listen, it’s no one’s business how much money you have or what you decide to do with it. Remember that.”

  Katie thought she heard Uncle Bob’s voice intensify on that last statement. When it came to money and choosing how to spend it, Bob was a bit of an authority. If he was saying she should be forthright and not plot a cover-up, she knew she should listen to him.

  “How about if we do this: You think about how you want to handle the information with Christy and Todd. I’ll look around for a car. I’ll keep you updated, and you keep me updated.”

  “Okay. But there is one more thing.”

  “Shoot.”

  “Can you look around for two good used cars?”

  “Two?”

  “Yeah, I need one. My car died last fall. I’ve been putting off the inevitable purchase for too long.”

  “How have you been getting around?”

  “I have generous friends. One of them, Nicole, arranged to include me on her insurance. We’ve been sharing her car for the past few months. It’s worked out great, but it really is time for me to buy my own car.”

  “I can help you with that. No problemo.”

  “Thank you. I’ll keep checking in with you, as you said.”

/>   Right before they hung up, Uncle Bob tenderly concluded their conversation. “You make me proud, Katie, you know that? You make me proud.”

  Katie choked up. She never expected him to say such a thing. Those were words a young woman should hear from her father, but Katie couldn’t remember ever hearing them from her dad. Hearing them from Uncle Bob meant almost as much to her.

  Almost.

  4

  As soon as Katie hung up, she drove to the gas station to fill Nicole’s car. Driving back up the hill to the Rancho Corona campus, Katie mentally tried to organize her mounds of must-dos for the remainder of that day. She was on front-desk duty that afternoon for three hours and hoped the shift was uneventful because she planned to work on a big project due next week that she hadn’t started. She also had a mandatory staff meeting at seven. Katie had no idea when she was going to find time to write her already-overdue paper for her intercultural studies class. She also was behind on turning in three summaries from reading assignments that were due while she was sick.

  “I’m never going to finish it all.”

  As a diversion, she put her phone on speaker and called Rick. “Hey. Guess who misses you and can’t wait to see you this weekend?”

  “Hey, yourself. Guess what?”

  “No, I’m not going to guess. First you have to guess who misses you and can’t wait to see you.”

  “Katie.”

  She couldn’t tell if he was speaking her name as the answer or with an edge of frustration. No matter. She kept playing along with her own game.

  “That is correct. Now it’s your turn. What do you want me to guess?”

  “We got clearance on the Redlands café. Opening day is set for April 27.” He sounded elated, but Katie was pretty sure he had told her that information before.

  “Cool.”

  “More than cool. This is going to change everything. We got in on this location at just the right time. How about if I pick you up early on Saturday morning and we come out here for the day?”

  Katie hesitated. That wasn’t exactly her idea of what their long-awaited date would hold. “I may have to bring some schoolwork with me.”

 
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