Coming attractions, p.5
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       Coming Attractions, p.5

           Robin Jones Gunn
 

  “So where do you want to go to eat?” Katie hoped to steer the conversation down another path for now.

  Rick kissed her again, this time on the side of her head. He leaned his head down and with his free hand, tilted Katie’s chin up toward him so he could kiss her on the lips. She eagerly received his kiss, but still had the funny feeling that other students might be watching them.

  Rick kissed her one more time on the lips. This time with firm intention. He pulled away slightly and whispered, “Did I tell you how much I’ve missed you?”

  “Yeah, you did.” Katie was surprised that she felt a bit agitated by his persistent attention. Hadn’t they already gone over that they had missed each other? Why was he so set on being cuddly and kissy now? Did her spiffed-up appearance affect him that much?

  Rick’s arm remained around Katie’s shoulder. He pulled her closer. “I’ve missed holding you like this. I’ve missed being with you. You smell really good.” He kissed her again.

  Now Katie definitely was uncomfortable. She wasn’t used to Rick’s responding to her like this and pressing forward with his expressions of affection. Katie knew that Rick was a “lover-boy,” just as she knew he was a smooth talker. Their relationship, for the most part, in the past long months had been more on the playful, cuddly side. They had held off on even kissing each other until after they had been dating officially for almost a year. They had never had a make-out session, but Katie suspected that was where they would be heading if they were alone right now.

  She received another kiss from him before pulling back and giving him a smile instead of a kiss. “Hey.”

  “Hey,” he echoed.

  “We should decide what we’re going to do tonight. Do you know where you want to eat?”

  “Anywhere. You pick.”

  The next few hours were a continuation of the Katie-Rick teeter-totter relationship tipping in Katie’s direction. That too wasn’t normal.

  Katie went with the power suddenly given to her, as if she were the one with the remote control and no one was complaining about her choices. That never happened.

  She chose where they went to dinner — a not-so-high-class Italian restaurant — and where they went next for dessert — a chain ice-cream shop — and what music they listened to in Rick’s car as they headed back to Rancho. All evening Katie kept the conversation running with details of what had been happening in the dorm and in her classes. Usually Rick was the one with all the news on his cafés. Tonight he kept saying, “What else has been happening?” and “You have no idea how cute you look when you talk fast like that.”

  For Katie, all the focused attention felt wonderful in an alternate-universe sort of way. This just wasn’t the way things usually were with Rick.

  Is this what it feels like for Rick to be truly in love with me?

  Katie felt a strange nervousness at the thought. Convincing Rick to decide he was crazy about her had been a goal for almost half her life. But what happens when such a long-term goal is achieved?

  At Katie’s suggestion, Rick drove to upper campus. He parked his new car and told Katie to wait. She stayed in the passenger’s seat while Rick hustled around and opened her door, offering his hand as she exited. The black heels she had borrowed from Nicole made her footing wobbly on the gravel.

  “I have new sympathy for Cinderella. I can see how she lost her shoe.” Katie reached for Rick’s arm as she tried to steady her steps. “Actually, Cinderella isn’t alone on the shoe loss thing. I stumbled out of my shoe in this parking lot last May at Todd and Christy’s wedding, remember?”

  “No. When did you lose your shoe?” Rick wrapped his arm around her, steadying her steps.

  “When I was running after the limo. Right after I found out about the prank you and Doug played on Christy and Todd.”

  “Oh, right.”

  Katie knew Rick didn’t really remember. Now that she thought about it, Eli was the one who had kept an eye on her that evening. He was the one who picked up the wreath of flowers she had been wearing as a bridesmaid. The one who said she had lost her halo. Then he proceeded to hang the mangled wreath on the rearview mirror of his beat-up Toyota. He said it reminded him to pray.

  Rick and Katie headed for one of the benches along the walkway under the palm trees. As soon as they sat down, Rick kissed her.

  Katie pulled back and looked at him before he could draw her close again for another kiss. “What’s going on? You’re, like, off-the-chart nice and ultra-affectionate this evening.”

  Rick smiled the same heart-happy grin he had given her earlier when she entered Crown Hall’s lobby.

  “I have something I’ve been waiting to give you.” Rick pulled from his pocket a small jewelry box.

  Katie held her breath.

  Is this it? Now? No! I’m not ready. I thought I was, but I’m not. Please, Rick! No! Not yet!

  Rick didn’t drop to his knee. He remained seated on the bench next to Katie and handed her the jewelry box. Once the box was in her hand, she realized it was too large for a ring. And too flat.

  “What’s this?”

  “Open it and see.”

  Katie opened the box. The only light around them came from the strings of white twinkle lights wrapped around the palm trees. She was pretty sure the treasure in the box was a piece of jewelry, but she couldn’t tell what it was.

  Faintly making out the shape of what might possibly be a small medallion, she said, “Did you win a gold medal in the Olympics and not bother to tell me?”

  “No, and don’t ruin this by trying to be funny.”

  “Ruin what? I can’t tell what this is.”

  “It’s a brooch.” Rick made the declaration with such finality Katie knew he thought the identity of the object should have been obvious to her. But it still wasn’t.

  Her confusion escalated. “A brooch? What exactly is a brooch?”

  Rick removed the piece of jewelry from the box and held it up so Katie could see the way the inset stones sparkled in the faint light. The brooch looked like a round sunburst with many small stones that seemed to be winking at her.

  “This belonged to my grandmother.” Rick’s voice had turned tender again. “She gave it to my mom. Right before Valentine’s Day my mom asked if I would like to have it made into something for you.”

  “So this is what you were going to give me on Valentine’s Day?”

  “Yes. I planned to surprise you, but then I realized I couldn’t have anything designed and completed in time for Valentine’s Day. So I thought I would give it to you then, and you could think about what you would like to do with it. I’m giving it to you now so, once you decide, I can have it ready by graduation. It won’t be a surprise, but it will be something you like, and that’s more important.”

  “Rick, you don’t have to give this to me. It was your grandmother’s. It’s too valuable.”

  “That’s exactly why I want you to have it.” He put the brooch back on the cotton in the box and placed the box in Katie’s hand. “This is important to me. To us. I’ve wanted to give you a piece of jewelry ever since we became a couple. It’s just that with money being so tight from opening the cafés, I couldn’t put aside enough for anything of value. When my mom gave me this, it meant a lot to me. That’s why I was so eager to see you on Valentine’s Day. This brooch meant I had something to work with, you know? I could use this to make a piece of jewelry for you, and you would be able to wear something more than that simple necklace I gave you.”

  “I like this necklace.” Katie touched the green stone on the end of the chain.

  “I wanted to give you something more.” Rick reached over and fingered the ends of her hair. “Something that expresses the importance of our relationship. We’ve done everything right, Katie. This is working. Our relationship, I mean. We’re good together. I want you to have something you can wear all the time that symbolizes our success.”

  A smile clung to Katie’s closed lips. She knew what Rick meant, but his
word choice struck her as funny. The guy’s heart was definitely in the right place. She just never expected Rick Doyle to present her with an antique brooch and say he wanted it to symbolize the success of their relationship.

  “What?” Rick leaned closer, trying to read the meaning of her mirthful expression.

  “This is really, really sweet, Rick. It is. I don’t know what to say.”

  “Say that you’re glad I’m your boyfriend and that you’ll decide in the next week what you want to have made out of the brooch so I can have it finished by graduation.”

  “Okay. I’m glad you’re my boyfriend, and I’ll decide as soon as I can.”

  “Good. And if you need any help, Nicki might have some ideas.”

  Katie pulled back. She still wasn’t used to hearing Nicole referred to as “Nicki.”

  “She’s seen this, hasn’t she? Did you show her the brooch?”

  “No. She knew about it because my mom told her. I wanted to show it to you first.”

  Katie leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you, Rick. This is really sweet of you. I’ll come up with a suggestion as soon as I can. And I’m sorry about Valentine’s Day and my confusion over what was going on.”

  “No apology needed.” He kissed her before she could protest again. Pulling back and taking her hand in his, Rick said, “Do you remember what you said last Christmas?”

  “You mean about your mom’s eggnog? I told you I apologized to her about that. I didn’t realize she was in the other room when I spit it out in the sink. I didn’t think — ”

  “No, Katie, not about the eggnog. About us. Do you remember what you said about our relationship?”

  “I’m not sure. What did I say?”

  “A few days after Christmas, we were in my new car. I don’t remember where we were going, but we were talking about how we would make it through this last semester. The fall months had been intense for both of us, with my working on the cafés and you with the RA position and changing your major in your senior year. Do you remember?”

  “Sort of.”

  “I was saying how I didn’t think much would change during the next few months for both of us because I’d still be busy with my business and you’d be busy with school. You said, ‘Then we’ll just have to learn how to live happily almost after.’ ”

  “Oh, yeah, I do remember saying that.”

  “Well, this will be your happily-almost-after bracelet. Or necklace. Or whatever you want it to be.” He kissed her again, and this time it seemed as if even his kiss were intended to symbolize their relationship. It was deliberate and lingering.

  Katie pulled back. Rick tried to kiss her again, but she said, “We probably should head back.”

  “We will. In a minute.” Rick wrapped both arms around Katie and murmured in her ear, “We’re almost there. You know that, don’t you? Only a few more weeks.”

  Katie definitely would have melted if Rick’s whispered words to her right then had been the defining “I love you.” Those were the words she was waiting to hear.

  But for now, his whispered, “almost there,” seemed one step away from a proposal. She drew in the warmth of his embrace and leaned her head against his chest.

  Rick held her for a long moment. She could hear his heart beating and felt the warmth of his steady breaths on the top of her head. Her eyes were open, unblinking, as if she were trying to focus clearly enough to see into the future.

  Katie stared into the darkness of the night around them and wondered if this was “it.”

  Am I going to marry this man? Am I really home? Why does it seem as if something is missing? What could be missing? This is all I ever wanted. Rick just said it. We’re almost there. All our long-sought-after goals will be accomplished. I love him. I know I love him.

  “Rick?”

  “Hmm?”

  “Do you hear music?”

  “Music?” Rick paused before answering. “No.”

  Katie slowly closed her eyes, trying to catch the sound of violins in her imagination.

  “Why? Do you?”

  “No.”

  He rose from the bench, employed all the deeply imbedded gentlemanly manners that had always been part of what made Rick Doyle Rick Doyle, and gently pulled her to her feet. “Then why did you ask?”

  Katie kept her hand ensconced in his. “No reason. I was just wondering.”

  Rick laughed. “I think you’ve watched too many romantic comedies.”

  “Possibly.”

  He gave her hand a squeeze. “This is our romance, Katie. We’re writing the script. You and me, not some formula writer in Hollywood.”

  “Then I guess I’ll have to ‘stay tuned for coming attractions.’ ”

  “Yes, you will. Be patient.”

  “I am.”

  “I know. So am I.”

  6

  When Katie showed the brooch to Nicole early the next morning in the laundry room, she pretty much had concluded she wanted to have the stones set into a bracelet.

  “What do you think?” Katie leaned against the washer where an extra-large load of her clothes was finally being washed. The two of them had gotten up for a staff breakfast at seven o’clock that Saturday morning. Katie was so energized after the meeting she had talked Nicole into helping her work on cleaning up her room. Within forty minutes the two of them had made admirable headway.

  Nicole pulled one of Katie’s freshly cleaned sheets from the dryer. “It’s beautiful.”

  “Yeah, fresh sheets are the best, aren’t they?” Katie drew in the slight lavender and gardenia scent that lingered from the fabric softener sheets Nicole had tossed in.

  “I meant the brooch is beautiful.”

  “Oh. Right. Yeah, it is beautiful. I’m sure it’s valuable. It’s just that I would never wear it. Rick made it clear that he wants me to wear whatever I have the brooch made into. I’m not much of a jewelry person, as you know. I think a bracelet is a safe way to go. Or maybe a necklace. I don’t know. I keep bouncing back and forth.”

  “I’m sure whatever you decide will turn out great.” Nicole held out one of the corners of the top sheet, and Katie picked up the other end. The two of them folded the sheet nice and tidy, which seemed pointless to Katie since she was just going to put it back on her bed.

  “Nicole, you’re supposed to have an opinion on this. Rick said I should ask what you would do with it.”

  “He did?”

  “Yeah. So, if he had given the brooch to you, what would you do with it?”

  Nicole pressed her lips together and focused on the door of the open dryer and not on Katie. “I would leave the brooch just as it is and find a unique way to wear it.”

  “How? In your hair?”

  “Maybe.” Nicole glanced at her phone and texted a message to someone who had just buzzed her.

  “Can I ask you something?” Katie boosted herself up to sit on the top of the warm dryer. “Do you think Rick and I are a good match?”

  Nicole’s eyes flashed over at Katie while the rest of her didn’t move. She seemed to be studying Katie’s expression. “Why do you ask that?”

  “I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder if Rick and I are really meant to be together. Then other times it’s like all my dreams are coming true before my eyes.”

  “Is that how you feel about him now? That your dream is coming true?”

  “Yes, definitely. I think. I mean, yeah. Of course.” Katie hopped down and paced the floor. “It’s just that I’ve never been this close to a guy. Well, except maybe for Michael in high school, but that wasn’t the same. Rick is so caring, and everything is going great. Really great. I think I’m trying to freak myself out. Listening for the violin music and all that. What is it when you don’t mean to ruin something, but you end up destroying everything?”

  Nicole still hadn’t moved. Only her dark eyes remained fixed on Katie as she paced. “Do you mean self-sabotage?”

  “Yes.” Katie snapped her fingers. “That
’s what’s happening to me. I’m contemplating self-sabotaging our relationship, aren’t I? Why would I want to do that? I must be crazy.”

  Nicole’s eyebrows crowded close together, and she returned her gaze to the screen of her cell phone. “I have to go,” she said quietly. “I’ll see you later.”

  “Yeah, see you later. Thanks again for all the help on my room and laundry and everything. You’re the best, Nicole.”

  Nicole was already out the door as Katie called out the final line. She checked the second dryer, which had tumbled to a halt while she was pacing the laundry room. Her jeans were still damp, so she set the timer for another twenty minutes and returned with her spring-flowers-scented bed sheets to her clean room.

  Her phone buzzed, and Katie was happy to see that the call was from Uncle Bob. “Hey, I was wondering when I would hear back from you.”

  “I think you’ll be more understanding of the wait once you see what I’ve come up with for you in the car department. When do you think you can head up this way?”

  “I don’t know. Later this afternoon might work. Christy talked me into helping her babysit for Doug and Tracy. We probably could come your way afterward. I’ll have to check with Christy. It’s over an hour from Doug and Tracy’s place in Carlsbad up to yours, right?”

  “At least an hour.”

  “Then I think we could arrive about seven tonight. Would that be too late?”

  Katie heard a voice in the background, and Bob added, “Marti says you should stay with us overnight. The weather has been great. She says… Wait. Here, she’ll tell you herself.”

  A moment later Katie heard Christy’s aunt’s high-pitched voice on the phone. “You girls need some girlfriend time. That’s what I was trying to tell Robert. Come up and stay the night. The three of us girls will have all day tomorrow to spend together.”

  “That’s really generous of you, but I don’t know if — ”

  “I’ll take both of you shopping and to lunch,” Marti quickly promised. “My treat. It’s been far too long since you girls let me spoil you. We’re overdue for some together time.”

 
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