Coming attractions, p.9
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       Coming Attractions, p.9

           Robin Jones Gunn
 

  From the way his profile changed as his jaw set forward in frustration, Katie knew Rick didn’t like her declaration. His face flinched slightly, and then he said in a flat voice, “If that’s the way you want it to be.”

  Katie leaned back and stared out the front windshield. She told her shoulders to relax.

  Neither of them spoke the rest of the short drive to Bob and Marti’s. When they got out of the car, Christy and Todd were laughing about something and looking as if they had all shared a lighthearted trip.

  “We have cheesecake,” Bob said to them as Rick and Katie entered the house with everyone else. “Either of you ready for some dessert?”

  “Sure,” Rick said. “Do you need any help in the kitchen?”

  “Not necessarily. Although you’re pretty comfortable in the kitchen, if I remember correctly.”

  “He’s a great cook,” Katie said. “As a matter of fact, you should have Rick make omelets for everyone in the morning. That is, if you don’t mind turning your stove over to a genius.”

  Rick gave Katie a confused look, as if he couldn’t tell if she were praising him or mocking him. She realized she was overdoing it. The fast-flung compliment was overcompensation for the thin line of tension that still lay between them like a tightrope. All evening neither of them had managed to walk all the way across that communication tightrope without slipping off and falling into the safety net below. That safety net was the longevity of their relationship. They had bounced back from arguments and tense conversations plenty of times. Katie believed they could do so yet again.

  Unfortunately, that never happened. For the next two hours, everything Rick or Katie said was misinterpreted not only by each other but also by Marti. By the time Katie found her way upstairs to the newly remodeled guest room, she felt like crying.

  That wasn’t her style at all.

  The sleeping arrangements were a little odd. Marti insisted that Christy and Katie take the upstairs guest room while Todd was assigned the sofa in the family room and Rick was relegated to a blowup mattress on the living room floor. It was as if they were back in high school.

  “You and Todd should be sleeping together in this bed,” Katie said once she and Christy were under the fresh sheets of the guest bed. “I’d be more comfortable on the air mattress than Rick. Todd should be here, Rick should be on the sofa in the family room, and I should be on the air mattress.”

  Instead of answering Katie’s objection, Christy said, “Hey, listen, whatever you and Rick are going through right now, I know it must be frustrating and confusing, but I think it will all work out, Katie. You don’t have to tell me what it is, but I know things are bumpy for you guys. I’ve been praying for you both all evening.”

  Katie didn’t respond. She stared at the ceiling in the darkened room and listened to the faint but steady roll of the ocean waves as the ageless melody of the sea floated through the half- open bedroom window. Even though Katie knew she could tell Christy anything and that her best friend would stay up with her all night if necessary to talk through all Katie’s feelings, Katie didn’t want to talk.

  Again, that wasn’t her style. She didn’t know what was going on with her.

  “Thanks, Chris,” she whispered after a pause that brought no peace. “Sleep well.”

  “You too, my peculiar treasure friend.”

  Christy’s words sailed across the surface of Katie’s confused heart like a well-aimed pebble. Each place the sentiment touched produced a small, expanding circle, pushing Katie into a flustered state. Now nothing inside her felt settled.

  Within a few minutes, Katie could tell by Christy’s easy breathing that she had fallen asleep. During their year as college roommates, Katie had come to know the sound of Christy’s sleeping. She also knew how deeply Christy could go in her sleep pattern once she dove into dreamland.

  As exhausted as she was, Katie lay awake, her eyes fixed on the faint shadows across the room caused by the dim nightlight in the adjoining bathroom. Instead of the waves’ sound lulling her to sleep, it seemed to have the opposite effect. With each curl and unfurl, Katie prayed.

  What is it, God?

  Are you trying to tell me something?

  What?

  Is all this unsettledness just normal emotions, hormones, or whatever? Or am I losing it? I’m about to go berserk, aren’t I?

  I hate feeling so unsettled like this. What’s my problem?

  Christy stirred in her sleep and turned toward Katie. Christy reached over, and her hand fell on Katie’s arm. She snuggled closer, leaning her head into Katie’s shoulder.

  “Hey, I’m not Todd,” Katie murmured.

  Christy didn’t retract. She continued her even-paced breathing with her cheek gently resting against Katie’s shoulder and her hand on Katie’s forearm.

  You and Todd sleep together.

  The thought had an odd effect on Katie. Of course she knew that Christy and Todd slept together. That intimacy between them as husband and wife was an obvious part of what had changed after they married.

  However, this close, cuddly sort of connection between them every night was something Katie never thought much about. What would it be like to go to bed each night and have the man you love be right there beside you, breathing peacefully and welcoming you into his arms?

  Katie could see Christy and Todd sleeping like this every night. Close, cozy, and invisibly knit together forever at the heart.

  As soon as that thought came to her, Katie felt her throat tighten. As if a clear and steady light suddenly had turned on inside her head, she could see, really see, what the problem was with her emotions and, more deeply, with her spirit. This wasn’t hormonal. This was true at the gut level.

  The old, on-a-whim Katie was back. She knew what was wrong. She knew what she needed to do.

  And she knew she needed to do it now.

  10

  Rick?” Katie knelt down to where her sleeping boyfriend lay on his side on the air mattress. She placed her hand on his shoulder and gently shook him. “Rick, wake up.”

  He stirred and slurred his words as he said, “What’s wrong?”

  “I need to talk to you.”

  Rick rolled over and drew in a deep breath. “Katie?”

  “Yeah, it’s me. I need to talk to you.”

  “Now?”

  “Yes. I need to talk to you now.”

  “What time is it?”

  “I don’t know. Can we go into the kitchen?”

  “The kitchen? Why?” He propped himself up on his elbow and blinked at her in the dimly lit room. “What is it, Katie? What’s the problem?”

  “Us.”

  “What?”

  “Please get up. Let’s go talk in the kitchen. Please.”

  By all the grunts and heavy exhaling Rick did, Katie was aware that he wasn’t happy about her midnight 911.

  “Can’t this wait until morning?” He followed her to the kitchen.

  “No, I don’t think it can. I’m sorry to be so dramatic and wake you up and everything, but I couldn’t wait. I figured it out, and I knew I had to talk to you right away.”

  They stepped into the kitchen, and Katie flipped on the light switch. The brightness momentarily blinded both of them. She slid over to the stools tucked under the counter and sat down. Rick lowered himself onto the stool next to her. His hair was sticking up funny on the side he had been sleeping on, and his face was scrunched up in an unpleasant expression.

  “What is it, Katie? Is it the money?”

  She was surprised that the inheritance was the first topic his mind had gone to. But then again, she wasn’t surprised.

  “No, it’s not the money. It’s us. Our relationship.”

  “What about our relationship?”

  “We’re not knit together at the heart, Rick.” Her voice came out cracked and full of all the clarifying pain she had felt when the revelation came to her a few moments ago.

  “What in the world are you talking about?”


  “You and me — us — it’s not a good idea anymore. We’re not meant for each other. We need to see things as they are and call it a day. Or a year. Or actually more like half my life. It’s what it was, and now it’s over.”

  She felt her throat tightening. This was more difficult to say than she expected. But then, this wasn’t something she planned or ever expected to say.

  An angry shadow fell across Rick’s face. “Katie, what are you doing?”

  “I’m… I’m breaking us up.”

  “No, you’re not,” he snapped.

  “Yes, I am! I’m breaking up with you, Rick Doyle.”

  “No, you’re not.” He shook his head and growled, “We aren’t breaking up, Katie. It’s not going to happen.”

  “Yes, it is going to happen. It’s happening now. I’m breaking us up because I just figured it out. You and I have gone as far as our hearts can carry us. This is it. We’re not knit together at the heart, and I don’t think we ever will be.”

  Rick rose and stood over Katie with his hands on his hips. “This is insane. You’re insane. Do you know what you’re doing? You’re ruining this weekend. Completely ruining everything. It’s the stress, isn’t it?”

  “No, it’s not the stress.”

  “I think it is. Why else would you do this? I think you’re letting the stress of school get to you. It’s just school. You’re never even going to use the stuff you’re writing papers on now. All you have to do is make it through these last few weeks without doing anything stupid, and then you’re going to graduate and — ”

  “Yeah, and then what?”

  “You’re going to come work for me.”

  Katie pulled back, stunned. “What? Work for you?”

  She had thought he was going to say, “After you graduate, we’re going to get engaged” or “We’re going to plan our life together.” His answer confirmed everything Katie’s gut had told her upstairs in the darkened guestroom.

  “I’m not going to work for you, Rick. I’m not going back to the café.”

  “Why not?”

  “That’s not what I want to do.”

  He towered over her, scowling and blinking. “Since when did you decide that?”

  “Since always. We never talked about my working for you. You made that up. I never said I wanted to do that.”

  “But you did last summer.”

  “That was then. This is now.”

  “Okay, fine. Don’t come work at the café. But if you don’t work for me, what do you want to do?”

  Katie set her jaw firmly. “I want to go to Africa.”

  Rick stared at her as if he suddenly had no idea who this woman in front of him was.

  “Actually, I wanted both of us to go to Africa.”

  “What are you talking about? I would never go to Africa. Never. Not for any reason. You’ve heard Eli talk about Africa. Why would you want to go there?”

  Katie held out her hands palms up and said, “This is exactly what I’m talking about. It’s obvious. We’re not knit together at the heart, Rick. Don’t you see?”

  He folded his arms across his chest, keeping both hands in fists. “I… you… you know what? I think both of us should go back to sleep and start fresh in the morning. This is a nightmare. You’re acting out a nightmare, Katie. That’s what this is. Some sort of stress-induced, hormone-overloaded nightmare. It’s insane. You’re insane.”

  “No, I’m not.”

  Rick raised his voice and his height. “We are not breaking up, Katie.”

  Katie kept her gaze fixed on him and stated firmly and evenly, “Yes, we are.”

  “No, we’re not!”

  She rose and stood with her shoulders back and her chin up as she gave him a look that expressed her determination. “I am breaking up with you, right here, right now. This has nothing to do with my hormones. This is in my heart, and I will not change my mind. Tomorrow morning we will still be broken up. And I know that once you get over being furious with me, you’ll see this is right. This is true. This is as far as we go, Rick.”

  Rick didn’t budge. He stared at her with vivid anger. Neutral Rick didn’t return as was usually the case when they argued. Instead, Katie was looking at the true Rick. He was furious, and he should be. She liked him better this way, true to his emotions. She knew that she was being a thousand percent true to her heart and her emotions. This was right.

  Rick marched past Katie and exited the kitchen, leaving her alone at the counter with all the lights on. She lowered herself onto the kitchen stool and sat for a long time, letting the reality of what had just happened roll over her. Her heart was pounding, and her hands were shaking. Her bare feet felt tingly from the cold floor.

  Katie stared at the clock on the microwave. The green digital numbers clicked to 1:11.

  A painful wince caught in her throat. A parade of memories came to her of the times she had spent with Rick in kitchens. Doug and Tracy’s kitchen was where they first had started their flirt-fest that led to this long relationship. The kitchen of the Dove’s Nest Café had been the location of many moments for them — mostly good ones. And in Rick’s apartment kitchen Katie had challenged him to express his feelings for her and demonstrate them outwardly by kissing her.

  She and Rick had shared a lot of life together. Had she done the right thing by breaking up with him? She thought so, but at the same time she realized that the way she had handled the unveiling of her decision hadn’t been fair to him. He hadn’t seen this coming. She could have waited. They could have done this differently. But if she had waited, she had a feeling she would have talked herself out of it.

  Katie’s sensitivity to how Rick was feeling right then came over her with heart-pounding intensity. She loved him. She knew she did. She never wanted to hurt him.

  “I’m sorry, Rick.” Her whisper was far too soft to reach his ears, but her small words were nonetheless sincere.

  What have I done?

  With urgency rising up inside her to try to smooth things out, Katie paced the floor. What if I go into the living room and apologize? I’ll tell him I still think we should break up, but I realize I didn’t handle it well, and I’m sorry I hurt him. And, by the way, Rick, I still love you, even though I know we’re not supposed to be together anymore.

  No, I can’t do that.

  Katie chewed on the cuticle of her thumbnail, trying in vain to think of a way to take the sting out of all this. But the only way she could think of to make things better was to go into the other room and retract everything. If she apologized profusely, she knew Rick would forgive her and take her back. He would wrap his arms around her, and the calming sensation of his closeness, his touch, his deep voice would make her feel happy.

  But for how long?

  A tear rolled down her cheek.

  This really is the end. It’s over between us. It really is.

  A chorus of soft tears rose from the depths of Katie’s heart and cascaded down her face in mournful unison. With them came the painful, certain affirmation that this was right. Everything she had said to Rick was true. This was as far as they could go. Her delivery of that truth may have been less than compassionate. But she knew she couldn’t do anything to change the circumstances — short of an elaborate apology and passionate plea for reconciliation. And she knew she couldn’t do that.

  Her relationship with Rick Doyle was over.

  Turning off the kitchen light, Katie returned to the guestroom as quietly as possible and crawled back into bed. The tug of war continued. She tried once more to work out a scenario in which she could go downstairs and wake Rick again. Could they talk this through? Would he see that she was right? Would he agree to be good friends on the spot and stick around tomorrow to help her shop for cars?

  No, this wasn’t the time for that conversation.

  A shiver ran up her legs as she rubbed her cold feet together, trying to warm them. Sleep seemed the only right answer to anything at this point.

  Katie
could feel herself letting go. In time to Christy’s even breathing, Katie released everything — Rick, their relationship, her future, all her strained emotions. She felt her weary spirit sinking into the rest that had eluded her for far too long.

  Under the covering of blessed sleep, Katie let go.

  When she awoke, she knew by the amount of sunlight streaming into the room that the morning was half spent. Christy’s side of the bed was vacant, and the house was quiet. Katie lay in the stillness without moving.

  Her mind systematically reviewed the drama she had initiated in the middle of the night.

  I broke up with Rick.

  A tightness constricted her throat, and a queasy feeling rolled around in her stomach. But her heart felt oddly settled.

  Did I do the right thing, Father? I did, didn’t I? I shouldn’t change my mind, should I?

  The strange, fixed sense of peace remained.

  “This is weird. This is so way weird. I shouldn’t feel this calm, should I? Unless that’s you, God. Is it? Is this what I’m supposed to feel right now?” Katie sat up and looked around the empty room. For some reason, God felt close.

  She wondered if Rick felt any of these same feelings. Had he come to the same conclusions during the night? Had he told the others yet? How would the rest of this day roll out? Would Rick still want to be involved in helping her to shop for a car, or would he just want to be on his way back to the café?

  Katie knew she had messed up the whole weekend, just as Rick had said. She also knew she couldn’t have gone through today faking that everything was great in their relationship. No, not after the defining realization that had come in the middle of the night. None of what she had done was smooth or particularly considerate of Rick, but she somehow knew it was right.

  Pressing her feet to the floor, Katie went through a pace of quick steps to shower, dress, and head downstairs.

  The house was quiet. No one was in the living room. The air mattress Rick had slept on was put away. The Sunday morning paper and two coffee mugs rested on the coffee table.

 
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