Authors: Robin Jones Gunn
She hadn’t looked in a mirror since early this morning, so she had no idea how she looked, but she knew it couldn’t be her best. On impulse she stood up before Matthew reached the screen door and quickly ran her fingers through her hair, flipping it back over her shoulder. Her heart pounded as she swallowed and reached for the handle before Matthew had a chance to knock. With a cautious pull, she opened the door to greet Matthew with an embarrassed smile.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi, yourself,” Matthew said, obviously startled. His light brown hair was short and much thicker than it had been in grade school. He probably shaved every day now. For the first time in their lives, he was now taller than she was. In every way, little Matthew Kingsley had grown up.
Matthew seemed to be taking a casual visual survey of Christy. They both looked each other in the eye, and Christy laughed nervously.
“Hi,” she said again.
“Hi, yourself,” Matthew said again. His eyebrows were thicker than they had been when he was a kid. But his warm brown eyes were as tender as they had been the day he gave Andrew Preston the black eye.
“I heard you were coming,” he said.
“Yes,” Christy said awkwardly. “I’m here.”
“You’re here,” Matthew said, nodding. He was still standing on the top step, and Christy was holding open the screen door.
“Do you want to come in?” Christy asked. “I’m probably letting in all the mosquitoes.”
“They haven’t been bad yet this year,” Matthew said. “It hasn’t been real hot.”
“Oh,” Christy said, nodding. She thought it comical that they were discussing the weather. She repeated her question. “Would you like to come in?”
“Oh, sure. Okay.” Matthew stepped into the porch and stood there, just inside the door.
Christy smiled and tried to remind herself that she was nearly eighteen years old. She had experienced a few dating relationships. She should know how to act around a guy without being so self-conscious. But this wasn’t any guy. This was Matthew Kingsley.
“How’s California?” Matthew asked after a pause.
“Good. I like it there.”
“It’s probably a lot better than here,” Matthew said.
“No, it’s nice, but it’s nice here too. I mean, every place has good points and bad points. Sometimes I wish I still lived here so I could see
my grandparents more and just be around all this familiar stuff. It’s comforting, you know?”
Matthew gave her a look of disbelief. “Comforting?”
Christy felt her cheeks turn red. “I’m just saying I like it here too, and I’m glad we could come visit.”
“Do you want to go do something with me?” Matthew asked.
Christy waited for a little more information, expressing with her eyes that she wanted Matthew to expand his question before she answered.
“I thought we could drive around and get something to eat,” Matthew said.
“I’ll have to ask my parents.”
“Okay,” Christy said. This was all too bizarre. For seven long years—from third grade to ninth grade—she had waited for Matthew Kingsley to even look in her direction, let alone speak to her privately. Now he was standing a few feet away, ever so casually asking her if she wanted to “go do something.” Catching herself staring at Matthew, Christy looked away and said, “Okay, I’ll go ask them.” She turned to open the door to the house and then stopped to say, “Would you like to come in?”
“Okay. Sure.” Matthew casually stepped forward and followed Christy into the kitchen.
“Mom, Dad, do you remember Matthew Kingsley?” Christy said.
Dad rose from his chair and held out his hand to shake with Matthew. “How are your parents doing?”
“Fine, sir,” Matthew said. “They’re the same as always. I guess my
mom has been making plans with you, Mrs. Miller, about the Fourth of July at the Dells.”
“Yes, we thought we would meet there for a picnic like we used to when you kids were young.”
This was the first time Christy had heard about the picnic plans. Why didn’t anyone ever tell her anything? She could have at least had a little more time to prepare herself for all these encounters with Matthew.
“It’s nothing like it used to be at the Dells,” Grandpa piped up. “All commercialized now. You kids have no idea what it used to be like to take a canoe out on those waters and peacefully view the sandstone cliffs. Used to be a person felt he was exploring one of the wonders of the world, before all the tour boats started to clog up the waterways. That’s the only way to explore the Dells, you know—by canoe. That’s how the Indians did it. I can’t rightly stand to see all the moneymaking businesses that have spoiled the place.”
Grandma reached over and patted Grandpa on the arm as a signal for him to stop the tirade. “Plenty of places on the Wisconsin River and in the Wisconsin Dells area are still remote and undeveloped, dear.”
“Well, it’s a crying shame, that’s what it is,” Grandpa said. “I read in the paper just last week that over three million people come to the Dells each year. You tell me someone isn’t making a pretty penny on God’s natural wonder.”
Grandma patted Grandpa’s arm again.
“Only four places in the world where a person can see such unusual sandstone formations. Did you know that?”
“It’s good to see you,” Mom said to Matthew, taking the focus off of Grandpa.
“Switzerland is one,” Grandpa said. “And New York and here. And Germany too. I’ll bet you they don’t have any blasted helicopter tours in Switzerland. Or in Germany, either.”
Grandma shot a stern look at Grandpa. He shook his head, still disgusted, but he kept quiet.
Dad sat back down and gave Matthew a wave, as if he were dismissing him. “Tell your folks hi, and we’ll see them on the Fourth.”
Matthew shot a look of “help” to Christy.
“Matthew and I were wondering if we could go do something,” Christy said.
“Oh?” Mom said.
“What kind of plans did you have in mind?” Christy’s dad asked.
“Nothing big,” Matthew said, addressing Christy’s dad with his shoulders back a little farther than they had been when Christy and Matthew entered the kitchen. “I thought we’d drive around and maybe get something to eat.”
Christy’s dad looked at her mom. Mom smiled and nodded her approval.
Grandma stepped in before Grandpa had a chance to lecture them on how courting was handled in his day. “If you two want to go to the movies, I think it’s still half price at the Bijou. But you have to arrive before six o’clock. Or maybe it’s seven o’clock. You haven’t much time if it’s six o’clock, but you’re welcome to call from here, if you’d like.”
“That’s okay,” Christy said. The last thing she wanted was for her parents and grandparents to give their input on which movie they should see when all they wanted to do was hang out. If they didn’t hurry up and get out of there, Uncle Bob and Aunt Marti might show
up, and then Christy and Matthew would have even more input about what they should do.
“You two just go and have a good time,” Mom said. Then, patting Dad on the arm the same way Grandma had patted Grandpa, Mom asked, “What time would you like her back here, Norm?”
“Ten o’clock,” he said, trying to sound gruff.
“Okay,” Christy said. “Ten o’clock.”
“Or ten thirty,” Dad said with a softer edge to his voice. “Call us if you have any problems.”
“Okay,” Christy said. “Let me grab a sweatshirt, Matthew. I’ll meet you out front.” She left Matthew alone with the parental units while she went to freshen up.
Her hair had gone straight in the humidity. It would have helped if she had washed her hair that morning, but she hadn’t had time. The tiny bit of mascara she had brushed on her eyelashes earlier was long gone. Her teeth needed a scrubbing, but since she hadn’t unpacked yet, she borrowed some toothpaste and used her finger.
Grabbing her backpack and checking to make sure her sweatshirt and wallet were in it, Christy called out a good-bye to her parents and stepped lightheartedly out the front door, through the screened-in porch, and down the three steps lined with Grandpa’s safety tape.
Perhaps some things, like Grandma’s house and her dad’s inquisitions, would never change. But Christy smiled at the unknown possibilities of the evening as she made her way down the driveway.
orry about all the questions in there from my parents,” Christy said as she settled into the passenger’s seat in Matthew’s truck. “I hope it didn’t bother you too much.”
“No,” Matthew said. “My parents are the same way, especially with my sisters. Sara turned fifteen last month, and they still won’t let her go out even though she tells them she’s the only girl in the whole school who’s not allowed to date.”
Matthew backed the truck out of the driveway and said, “You hungry? I thought maybe we would go by the Dairy Queen first.”
Christy didn’t answer right away. She was hungry, all right, but her old best friend, Paula, used to work at Dairy Queen. Christy didn’t know if Paula still worked there. As a matter of fact, Christy had no idea what was going on in Paula’s life since neither of them had kept track of the other during the past year or so. Several times she had thought about calling Paula to let her know about the trip to Brightwater, but Christy never quite made it to the phone.
“Or we can do something else,” Matthew said when Christy didn’t answer him.
“No, Dairy Queen is fine. I was just thinking.” Christy knew if she walked into Dairy Queen and Paula was working, she would be
mad Christy hadn’t called. The problem was, Brightwater was a small town. Paula would find out eventually that Christy was here—Paula might know already. After all, Matthew knew Christy was coming.
“You sure it’s okay?” Matthew kept looking over at her as he drove.
“Sure,” Christy said quickly. “I just feel a little strange being here and seeing all these places and people I haven’t seen for so long.”
Matthew smiled. He had a crooked tooth on the top right side. It wasn’t noticeable when he spoke, only when he smiled. Christy hadn’t remembered that about him. But in junior high she had rarely gotten this close to Matthew and certainly not this close when he smiled.
“Was it strange for you to see me?” Matthew asked, still smiling.
“Yes,” Christy said. She was trying to adjust to this manly version of Matthew Kingsley. He was good-looking in a rugged, northern woodsman sort of way. She hadn’t remembered his voice being this deep in ninth grade. Yes, Matthew Kingsley had turned out nicely. Did he think the same about her?
Matthew pulled into the parking lot at Dairy Queen and turned off the engine. He opened his door and got out.
Christy opened her door and found Matthew waiting for her at the back of the truck. She couldn’t help but compare Matthew to Doug, the guy she had been spending time with lately. Doug also drove a truck, although it was a newer model. He often opened the door for Christy and sometimes even offered her his hand to help her out. Doug was a nice guy.
Christy hadn’t experienced any twinges of romantic feelings toward Doug, but she knew she needed to be patient with herself. She had liked Todd for a long time.
And you liked Matthew for even longer
. Christy grabbed her backpack
and brushed the subconscious thought away. Right now she didn’t need to think about Todd, Doug, or even Matthew. She needed to be ready to face Paula.
As soon as they entered the air-conditioned fast-food restaurant, Christy scanned the employees. When she didn’t see Paula, she breathed a little easier.
She and Matthew ordered hamburgers, and Christy asked for a small frosty cone in a cup. As they sat at a corner booth, Christy was flooded once again with memories of all the times she had come here with her family when she was a kid.
“I can’t believe I’m here,” she said. “This is really strange for me. In some ways, nothing has changed.”
“I’ve changed,” Matthew said, giving Christy an engaging smile.
“Yes,” she agreed, “you have.”
“And you’ve changed,” Matthew said.
“Yes, I have,” Christy agreed again.
“I heard from Melissa that you became a strong Christian,” Matthew said.
Christy was surprised. What he said was true, but why would Melissa have told him? Then she remembered that Melissa was a close friend of Paula’s. Christy had shared with Paula about surrendering her life to Christ after Christy had moved to California. Paula apparently had told Melissa.