Coming attractions, p.4
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       Coming Attractions, p.4

           Robin Jones Gunn
 

  “Not a problem. Everything’s wired. Bring your laptop. The espresso machine should be installed by Friday afternoon, so I’ll make you some of the good stuff while you study. It’s really shaping up, Katie. Nicole did a great job on her selection of colors. Did she tell you she was able to use the interior design plans for one of her finals? She got an A.”

  “I knew she was trying to get credit for all the work she did with your mom. That’s great. So are you in town tonight? Do you want to come by? I’m on duty at the front desk from four to seven. We could have dinner after that. Oh, wait; I think I have a staff meeting then.”

  “I can’t come anyway, Katie. Too much is going on here right now. I miss you. Things have been way too crazy for way too long.”

  “I know. We’re almost to the end of this particular finish line.”

  “I know,” Rick said. “April 27 is just around the corner.”

  “May 16 is just around the corner too.”

  “What’s May 16?”

  She couldn’t tell if Rick was deadpanning to tease her.

  “Let me see, May 16… May 16… Now what was it? Something is happening May 16. Oh, that’s right! Katie Weldon is graduating from college on May 16.”

  “Did you think I forgot?”

  “I think the way your life is right now you need to be reminded. Often. This is a nonnegotiable, by the way. You have to be there, Rick. It’s man-da-tor-y. Got it? Mandatory.”

  “Katie, relax. I get it. Don’t worry. I plan to be there.”

  She knew she would have felt more comforted if his word choice had been “I will be there,” but she needed to back off. More than once she had told Rick that he, Todd, and Christy were going to be her stand-in — and only — family there that day. He knew how important that was to her.

  Rick had assured her he would get his parents to come and possibly even his brother, Josh, who was as caught up as Rick in the opening of the new cafés. Katie had good reason to be leery of Rick’s demanding schedule. As a backup, she thought maybe she would invite Bob and Marti. Why not? Uncle Bob had just said he was proud of her. He could come watch her accept her diploma and be proud of her on May 16 too, couldn’t he?

  Two weeks passed before Katie managed to find time to call Uncle Bob to check on the car project as well as to give him a heads-up on the graduation date. Katie knew Marti’s social calendar would require early notice on any event that required significant effort. And with Aunt Marti, pretty much everything involved more effort on her part than was perhaps necessary.

  During those two weeks, Katie felt like a hamster on an exercise wheel, running, running, but getting nowhere. She made it to all her classes, two staff meetings, and even fulfilled her scheduled RA duties. That was more than she had managed to pull off in the past month. On average she was sleeping less than five hours each night, but she couldn’t seem to catch up on all the work she had to do.

  After Katie’s last afternoon class on Friday, she headed to Crown Hall for her two-hour front-desk duty. The minute she was off, she planned to dash to the shower and change into whatever clean anything she could find in the compost pile of clothing in her room. She and Rick had finally managed to schedule a real date, and, if all went well, she would be ready at exactly 6:30, when he was to pick her up.

  Julia, Katie’s resident director, was waiting for her when Katie entered the office space on the lobby level of Crown Hall. She took Katie aside and asked, “Do you have any time open tomorrow morning?”

  “Tomorrow?”

  “Around eight. Does that work for you? You still haven’t turned in your February summary forms. I know you were sick. We can work on it together. It should only take an hour.”

  Katie didn’t see how she could fit another hour into her schedule. She knew she had to. Maybe trying to go out to dinner tonight with Rick was a bad idea. She had way too much work to do this weekend.

  What am I thinking? I haven’t seen Rick in ages. Of course I have to see him tonight.

  “Would later in the week be all right with you?”

  “Sure. Email me your best open times and we’ll figure something out.”

  Settling into her chair at the desk, Katie pulled out her laptop and immediately went to work on some research she needed for her final project in her class on modern Asian culture. When she had switched to humanities as her major at the start of her senior year, she didn’t have a strong sense of what she would end up doing with that major. But it was a much better fit than botany had been. With humanities, she liked the variety of classes that connected with her interest in people, communication, and cultures.

  Yet Katie knew, if she were to be completely honest, she was more interested in actually graduating than in what degree she was graduating with. She wouldn’t admit that to anyone, but her goal had been simply to finish college. What she majored in was only icing on the cake. If she could manage to keep on track for this last sprint to the finish line, then anything could happen.

  Katie’s imagination gave way to the image of being draped in an elegant white wedding dress, holding a simple, single California poppy as her bouquet. She saw herself walking down the aisle, her face gleaming, her steps slow and sure. In her waking daydream she saw her wedding take place outside, on upper campus, just like Christy and Todd’s wedding last May. The weather was perfect. The guests were all beaming.

  She looked down and was delighted to see she was barefoot under that exquisite wedding gown. That explained her perfect balance and unhurried steps. She was happy. In her most natural habitat.

  Katie imagined music playing. Guitars. No, not guitars. Violins. Yes, violins. Many violins with one cello. And butterflies. Hundreds of dainty, flittering, golden butterflies circled her as she took tiny steps forward.

  She imagined lifting her eyes toward the altar where, under the flower-laced arch, a minister stood smiling, holding a Bible in front of him with both hands. Now was the moment. She would turn and look upon the face of her beloved. By his expression as he gazed on her, she would know that he was smitten with her bridal beauty. Slowly casting her daydreaming glance to the right, Katie drew in a sweet breath and —

  “Yo!”

  The rough voice snapped her back to the present. A middle-aged, overweight maintenance guy in a frayed Dodgers baseball cap stood by the window.

  “Yeah, we got a call for a broken window.”

  “What?”

  “A broken window,” he repeated.

  “Okay. Um, did anyone tell you the room number?”

  “I dunno. They said to check in at the lobby.”

  Katie flipped through the papers on the desk and found a work order in Nicole’s handwriting. “Here it is. It’s on the first floor. I’ll go with you.”

  Katie put out the sign that read, “Back in a few,” and they walked to room 118 without speaking. Katie knocked three times on the door. When no one answered, she knocked again and called out that she was a resident assistant and that she was going to open the door and enter. Using the master key, Katie opened the door and was stunned at the sight that greeted her.

  The room was a disaster zone. Clothes, books, shoes, blankets, and empty pizza boxes were gathered in huddles as if planning their next move. The window on the left was shattered. Shards of broken glass were sprinkled over the bed, the desk, and the crumpled clothing. In the center of the floor was a large rock. Katie knew it was best to leave the evidence right where it was.

  The repairman said, “Looks like someone ransacked the place. I’ll double-check the measurements and come back with the glass.”

  As he pulled out his tape measure, Katie stood to the side, her thoughts on the women who lived in this room. They might not know what had happened. Maybe their room had been broken into. Or maybe one of them caused the break. Either way, Katie was glad this didn’t happen on her floor. She had too much to do and wouldn’t appreciate logging a report on a mess like this.

  The other thought that stayed with Katie as
she looked around the room was how she would feel if the rock had come through her window and she had to let someone into her room. As bad as this room was, Katie knew hers was worse. And no one had ransacked it. She alone was responsible for the mess. She was never there, so all the piles of disorganization had only grown in their petrifying state. If anyone saw how she had been living, she would be horrified.

  As Katie returned to the lobby with the repairman, she determined that she would do whatever it took to catch up on her laundry and clean her room this weekend.

  Back in the front office, Katie returned to her research and kept on task for almost half an hour before Nicole came by and stopped to talk. Nicole had all the details of the broken window and filled Katie in.

  “The guys that reported it said it was supposed to be a friendly tap on the window to see if anyone was there. They said they made a ‘poor choice in the size of the pebble.’ ”

  “It was no pebble, I’ll tell you that. And I’ll tell you something else you’ll be glad to hear, Miss Super Tidy Pageant Princess.”

  “Don’t call me that,” Nicole said with a hint of a frown on her flawless skin.

  “Okay. Sorry. Here’s the point. I saw how messy room 118 was, and it motivated me at the heart level — you know what I mean? Right here. I felt it.”

  “Felt what?”

  “The need to clean my room.”

  “Really?”

  “Yes, really. I think you’re the only one on campus who knows how truly frightening my room has become. I may need a shovel and a Dumpster, but I’m determined to clear the toxic waste this weekend.”

  “Good for you.” Nicole looked at her watch. “Do you want a head start on it?”

  “Why? What are you suggesting?”

  “I could take your last hour shift. I have a lot of work to do. Might as well do it here. You said it’s been pretty quiet. That way you would be able to jump into the cleanup project.”

  “Yeah, jump in before I change my mind or get distracted, right?”

  Nicole smiled her sweet smile. “Offer stands. What do you want to do?”

  “I’ll take it. You’re so nice to me.”

  “I know.”

  Nicole stood next to the desk as Katie leaned over to unplug her laptop cord. Hidden under the desk, Katie didn’t see the person who walked up to the window.

  Nicole greeted whoever it was with an extra cheery, “Hey! Hi! How are you? Good to see you.”

  “You too. How you been? You look great, by the way.”

  Katie recognized the deep voice. Her heart did a little tap dance. He’s early!

  She popped her head up.

  “Katie?” Rick looked surprised. “What are you doing down there?”

  “Unplugging my laptop. What are doing out there?”

  “Trying to surprise you. I knew you were on duty, so I thought I would come by early. I have a few calls to make, but I thought I would hang out with you until you’re off the clock.”

  “Really?” Katie felt a flustered sort of happiness. She actually had been looking forward to cleaning up her room before her haystacks of clothes became combustible. She also had intended to take a shower and greet Rick nice and fresh. Not frumped and frazzled yet again.

  “I was just telling Katie I would cover for her at the front desk,” Nicole said.

  “That’s great. Thanks, Nicki.” Rick gave Nicole a big smile.

  Katie repeated Rick’s choice of a nickname. “Nicki?”

  Rick was notorious for coming up with tag names for people. Sadly, all his attempts to give Katie a nickname had failed. This was the first time she had heard him use the cutsey “Nicki” to refer to Nicole.

  “It fits, don’t you think?” Rick turned his smile back in Katie’s direction.

  Nicole jumped in with a further explanation. “Rick’s dad called me that a few weeks ago. I told Rick I liked it because my dad called me Nicki when I was little. Hardly anyone calls me that anymore.”

  “Nicki.” Katie tried out the sound of the new name.

  Nicole laughed. “Your expression says it all, Katie. I can tell how you feel about it. Don’t worry. You don’t have to call me Nicki.”

  “Good. Nicole fits you better, I think.” She gathered up her things. “Rick, do you mind waiting for me for, like, ten minutes?”

  “After all the times you’ve waited for me? Course not. Do you need to go change?” He seemed to be taking in her crumpled outfit, including her not-so-fresh T-shirt and her favorite pair of sandals with the frayed leather strap.

  “Yes, I need to change. Definitely. In more ways than just my date-night-worthy apparel. But for the moment, that’s the only change I’m going to work on. Do you mind waiting for me? Really?”

  She was outside the office now, standing in front of him. Rick looked so good. He always looked good. He smelled good too.

  His smile softened as he looked down on Katie. “I’ll be waiting right here for you. As long as it takes. I’m not going anywhere without you.”

  Oh, Rick, you are still the king of smooth talk.

  His tender words to Katie catapulted her down the hall, to her room, into the shower, and out in record time. She wished she had something cute, new, and nice and fresh waiting in her closet for her to slip into. She wanted to look good for Rick. She wanted him to melt a little every time he saw her, the way she melted a little every time she saw him.

  Her choices were limited though. Jeans or jeans. A white blouse that needed to be ironed or a black V-neck sweater. The sweater won the selection challenge, even though it was a warm afternoon. She pushed up the sleeves, then lifted the sweater and squirted her stomach with a spritz of kiwi-coconut-lime body spray just in case she did perspire to death. At least she would smell slightly fruity in the meltdown.

  Smoothing her sweater back into place, Katie noticed a string hanging from the side. She gave the wayward strand a tug, and a half-inch hole appeared.

  “Oh, brother! You’ve got to be kidding me.”

  She pulled off the sweater to examine the damage, and the yarn continued to unravel. Frustrated, she grabbed her phone and called Nicole.

  “I’m desperate. Please tell me I can borrow anything in your closet.”

  “Of course you can. Help yourself to the shoes and jewelry too. Whatever you want.”

  “You are a peach. And a lifesaver. Thanks, Nicole. Tell Rick I’m almost ready.”

  “I will. Don’t rush. He’s catching me up on all the details with the café.”

  Katie rushed anyway. She used the master key to gain entrance into Nicole’s room and skimmed through the beautiful, clean, hungup assortment of tops in Nicole’s orderly closet. After trying on two different tops, she decided on the first one.

  Right before dashing back to her room, Katie spotted a pair of stylish black shoes. Nicole had said to borrow shoes as well. Katie tried them on and thought they looked great with her jeans. Viewing herself from several angles in Nicole’s full-length mirror, Katie thought it was about the cutest combo she had put together all semester. She definitely needed to go clothes shopping with Nicole as personal consultant.

  With the shoes in her hand, Katie hurried back to her room and finished getting ready. Her hair didn’t need too much tweaking. She shook it twice and let the silky red strands land in their usual happy-go-lucky tumble. Makeup would be a nice touch. She untwisted the top of her mascara tube and thought, When was the last time I opened this?

  Her eyes fell on a green stone necklace that had been curled up on the corner of her dresser top for as long as the mascara had been sitting beside it twisted shut. Rick gave her the necklace months ago. She wasn’t exactly sure why. He said he saw it when he was in Arizona and the color reminded him of her eyes. Green, yet changing in the light. Or something like that. Katie had never been one to wear much jewelry. Tonight, though, she was glad she noticed the necklace. Rick would like that she wore it.

  Katie slipped on the black heels and took one last look
in the mirror before dashing down the hall. That’s when she realized going fast in Nicole’s shoes was a challenge. A lady didn’t dash in such heels. She had to take it slow. No matter. Rick said he wasn’t going anywhere. He said he would be waiting for her.

  5

  Making her grand entrance into Crown Hall’s lobby, Katie wasn’t surprised to see that Rick was on his cell phone and had stretched out on one of the couches. He spent a lot of time on his phone. His head was turned the other way, so he didn’t notice her arrival.

  Katie casually seated herself on the sofa’s arm at the opposite end and waited for him to notice.

  Rick turned toward her, and when he did, it happened.

  Katie got the look she had longed to receive from Rick — the crinkles-in-the-corners-of-the-eyes look that made his lips turn up in a smile and made it clear that he saw — really saw — her.

  Katie wanted to mark this moment. She had waited for this since junior high. She was pretty sure Rick Doyle at long last realized he was in love with her. It finally, truly had happened. She saw it in his eyes. She saw it in his expression. Never again would she question if his heart was turned toward her.

  It was. She knew.

  Rick immediately ended the call, closed his phone, and took a long look at Katie. All he said was, “Hi.”

  Katie loved that “hi” was the only word to come out of his mouth.

  She responded with an equally small, “Hi.”

  Rick took her hand in his. “You look gorgeous.”

  “Thanks. It’s Nicole’s top. Did she tell you I called a little while ago in desperation?”

  “No. Hey, come here.” He made room for her beside him on the couch. Katie slid in, under his waiting arm. He wrapped both arms around her and drew her close.

  “I’ve missed you.”

  “Not as much as I’ve missed you.”

  Rick kissed the tip of her nose. She cuddled up next to him, not comfortable with the thought of his kissing her a lot here in the dorm lobby. Not that she didn’t want him to kiss her. A lot. But she had the feeling that people were watching, and her and Rick’s expressions of affection were a private thing.

 
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