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Authors: Robin Jones Gunn

Departures (12 page)

BOOK: Departures
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Christy was thrilled.

“Sara, you guys keep an eye on David, and we’ll meet all of you here in an hour, okay?”

David and the girls took off, and Christy suddenly felt shy around Matt. They walked side by side on the hot pavement through the park,
and the scent of chlorine seemed to surround them. Christy was sure her skin had never been so “bleached” in pool water before, but with so many people, she knew the water needed to be extra clean. She guessed her hair would have a green tinge by the day’s end. For all she knew, it already could be turning green. She wondered if Matt would notice such a thing as green hair.

“Are you having a good time?” Matt was looking at her closely.

“Yes, I’m having a great time. Are you?”

Matt nodded and motioned for her to go first into the Adventure River. He followed her into the water, and soon they were bobbing leisurely along in their big blue inner tubes.

Matt reached over and took hold of the handle on the side of Christy’s inner tube.

“Don’t tip me over!” Christy cried.

“I’m not going to,” Matt said. He pulled his inner tube right next to Christy’s and said, “Okay. Do you want to hear the whole story about Melissa?”

Christy felt her emotions nosedive. Now that she was finally alone with Matt, she certainly didn’t want to talk about Melissa. But she nodded politely and said, “Sure.”

“I asked Melissa to go with me to homecoming our junior year, and you would think it was the royal event of the decade. It was a much bigger deal to everyone than I think it should have been, and I didn’t have a very good time.”

“So you and Melissa used to go out?” Christy asked.

“Just that one time. That was it. Except ever since, she seems to think I owe her another dance or something.” Matt leaned closer to Christy’s inner tube and said, “Can I tell you something?”

Christy nodded and gave him an expression of sincere honesty. She wanted him to know he could trust her with his secrets.

“That’s been my total dating experience. I’ve been interested in different girls now and then, but because of sports and work, I never had any time to develop a social life. Then, when I became a Christian, the selection of girls who believed the same way I did went down to zero.”

“Can I ask you something?” Christy asked.

“Of course.”

“Why did you go out with Melissa in the first place? I mean, did you both really like each other, or did you think it was going to be a one-time thing?”

“I didn’t know what it was going to be. Paula told me Melissa liked me at the beginning of our junior year,” Matt said. “Paula was the one who convinced me to ask Melissa to the homecoming dance.”

Christy didn’t mean to, but she laughed.

“What?” Matt said. “What did I say?”

“I’m sorry, Matt. I was just thinking that if it hadn’t been for Paula, how would you ever know any girls liked you?”

“I knew you liked me,” he said. “Before Paula even told me, I knew.”

“Oh? And just how did you know that?” Christy asked, playfully splashing the water with her toes.

“You used to chase me,” Matt said.

“I used to chase you?”

“Yeah. Don’t you remember? In third grade at first recess, you used to chase me around the schoolyard. I’d come up to you and tag you on the shoulder, and then you would chase me.”

“That’s right,” Christy said. “How could I have forgotten that? You used to always say, ‘Eeny meeny boo boo,’ whatever that meant.”

Matt laughed. “That’s right. Where did I come up with that?”

They both laughed, and Christy said, “And that’s how you knew I liked you?”

“Yep,” Matt said.

“But you never liked me back,” Christy said, watching Matt’s expression for a response.

“I never said that.” His eyes were fixed on hers, and his jaw was set. Matt let go of the handle on her inner tube and reached for Christy’s hand. The gesture surprised Christy, but she didn’t pull back. Under the warm summer sun, drenched with the scent of chlorine, Christy and Matt floated down the Adventure River, hand in hand.


hristy felt as if her childhood dream was coming true. Only now it was ten years after she had first dreamed of holding hands with Matthew Kingsley while floating down some imaginary, lazy river. Christy didn’t know what to say, or even if she should say anything.

“When I heard you were coming,” Matt said after a moment, “I wanted to see you because I wondered how much you had changed.”

“Have I changed a lot?” Christy heard a nervous twitch in her voice and wondered if Matt noticed it.

“In some ways you haven’t changed at all. And in the ways you have changed, well, all those changes have been for the better.” Then quickly Matt added, “You do know, don’t you, that I have a crush on you, Christy Miller?”

Christy was so surprised at Matt’s declaration that she scooped up a handful of water and splashed him, saying, “You do not, Matthew Kingsley!”

“How do you know?” he said. “You can’t see inside me to know what I’m feeling.”

The wounded expression on Matt’s face made Christy bite her lip. How could she have discredited his feelings like that? She knew
exactly what it felt like to have a crush. She knew how painful it was to have your crush revealed and then to have that person dismiss it with rude carelessness. She would have hurt him less if she had blurted out that she would rather kiss a toad, the way he had dismissed her crush years ago. But what she had just done was worse. He had confessed his feelings to her, and she had invalidated them in one breath.

Matt let go of her hand as they approached the Adventure River’s exit.

“I’m sorry,” Christy said. She felt awful. Worse than awful. Terrible. No, horrible. She felt horrible. She exited the water and hurried to catch up with Matt. Her wet feet flapped against the hot pavement as she tried to keep up with his stride.

“Matt, will you stop a minute?”

He stopped.

“Can we sit down?”


“Over on that bench.”

Matt still looked hurt.

“You’re right,” Christy began. “I don’t know what you’re feeling. I know what I felt for you from third grade all the way through junior high. I know what a crush feels like. Crushes are real. I know they are. And the truth is, I don’t know but that I still have a crush on you, Matthew Kingsley.”

He looked over at her with his head down but with his face turned toward hers, looking expectant. “Really?”

“I think so,” Christy said.

Matt sat up straight and looked at her. “What do we do about that?”

A nice, logical answer came to her mind. The right way to approach any such relationship would be to pray about it, develop a friendship, make the proper commitments at the proper times, and know that each choice was a follow-up to the first decision that strengthened it.

She had no idea where this thinking came from. She certainly hadn’t seen things that clearly when she was so crazy about Todd.

“I don’t know what we can do about our feelings,” Christy told Matt. “Admitting them to each other is probably a good place to start.”

“I suppose,” Matt said.

“Maybe for now, it’s just good that we both admit what we feel,” Christy said. “It’s more than we were able to do in elementary school.”

Matt was about to say something when David came running up with the girls and started to ramble on about the wave pool and how they had to go there next.

Christy and Matt followed the others, walking next to each other. She was sorry that their serious conversation had been interrupted. What would have happened if they had kept talking, exploring their feelings? Would sparks have flown from Matt’s words and ignited all her emotions?

The group went to the wave pool, and Matt and Christy, as a couple, were swallowed up in the brother-and-sister interactions among all of them.

Once Christy could relax again, she had a great time bobbing on her inner tube. Then the ride’s alarm sounded, and the mighty, man-made wave rose and pushed them to the cement shore. It was nothing like the real experience of riding waves in California, but it was still fun.

As usual, Christy picked apart all her thoughts and feelings. She
was glad that she and Matt had been able to talk so openly, but she still didn’t know what to do about their confessions.

Matt splashed her to get her attention as she was drifting in her thoughts. “We need to head back to the picnic grounds. We told them we would be back by 7:00 for the barbecue. If we hurry, we might get there by about 7:15. I don’t want our parents to worry.”

David moaned about having to leave, but he perked up at the mention of food.

Matt’s estimate was close. They joined their parents at 7:10. The picnic area was even more crowded than it had been that morning. Curls of smoke from lit charcoal briquettes mixed with the burnt smell of prematurely lit sparklers. Christy wondered if the woman she had seen earlier in the day still had those sparklers in her hair or if someone had lit them for her. Christy had to wonder if any of her emotional sparklers had been lit, and, even more important, did she want to leave them so accessible?

The food was ready when they arrived. Two hot dogs, a mound of potato salad, three pickles, and a slice of watermelon later, Christy joined her dad and David in a round of Frisbee. Matt joined them and spun a couple of impressive throws in her direction, none of which she caught.

“You never were much for sports, were you?” Matt teased when they disbanded the game because it was growing dark.

“Nope. My best friend, Katie, says I’m ‘athletically impaired,’ which is a nice way of saying I’m a klutz.”

“You’re not a klutz,” Matt said.

“I don’t seem to ever recall hearing you say the words, ‘Red Rover, Red Rover, send Christy right over.’ ”

“Maybe not,” Matt said. “But if I remember correctly, you were pretty good on the ice at our eighth-grade winter party.”

“That’s right,” Christy said, remembering how good it felt to skate around the rink without falling. She liked being with someone who had known her for so many years he could remind her of past victories.

“Come with me to get some more blankets,” Matt said. “They’re in the van.”

Christy knew this would be their chance to finish their heart-to-heart conversation. In the last few hours, Christy’s mind had spun wildly with the possible directions things could go with Matt. She imagined everything from saying good-bye to him tonight and never seeing him for the rest of her life, all the way to standing with him under an anniversary banner in the same church fellowship hall fifty years from now. Only the church would definitely be air-conditioned by then.

None of her scenarios seemed sure or clear. The future was as vast and unsearchable as the summer sky that spread over them like a deep periwinkle picnic blanket. Perhaps what she felt now was part of the mystery that always seemed to come along with the “romance” and “adventure” Katie had talked about.


att handed her a blanket, and he held the other. They lingered a moment behind the van while he tried to lock the door.

BOOK: Departures
10.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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