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Authors: Robin Jones Gunn

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BOOK: Departures
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The two of them walked through the silent corridor of their elementary school campus, and Christy said three times in a row, “It’s so much smaller than I remember.”

And three times in a row Matt answered, “You were smaller.”

“Do you remember Mrs. Elmadore and the way she used to tuck a handkerchief up the sleeve of her blouse? I thought she was trying to perform some kind of magic trick every time she pulled it out to blow her nose.” Christy peered into the window of their fourth-grade classroom.

Matt stood beside her, peering inside too. “She used to write our names on the board in those big, flowery letters whenever we got in trouble.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Christy said, playfully flipping her hair over her shoulder. “I never got in trouble in Mrs. Elmadore’s class.”

“Right, but you were always in trouble in sixth-grade band,” Matt reminded her. “Why was Mr. Beaman always yelling at you?”

Christy followed Matt to their old band room. “I don’t know. He didn’t like Paula, either. He probably didn’t like that she and I were always talking during class. We both took clarinet so we could practice together, and we both were horrible at it. And besides that, we only practiced together once or twice that I remember. Mr. Beaman was always splitting us up in class.”

“Do you remember the year when it snowed so hard we had to stay at school until they could clear the roads, and we didn’t leave until midnight?” Matt asked. “What year was that?”

“That was second grade. Miss Kaltzer’s class. That was scary.”

“All I remember is that we ate popcorn, and she kept giving us art projects to do.”

Christy laughed. “I remember the popcorn too.”

They walked to the truck, and Matt drove to their junior high as they continued to reminisce.

“I didn’t like junior high very much,” Christy confessed. “I was so self-conscious all the time.”

“Everybody is self-conscious in junior high,” Matt said. “All I remember is playing baseball in seventh grade and our city league won the play-offs.”

“Do you still play baseball?”

“Every chance I get.”

“Let’s go to the park,” Christy suggested, cutting their visit to the junior high short. “I want to see where you play ball.”

Matt drove, talking all the way about his long list of sports accomplishments. Christy took it all in, recognizing the names of a lot of the other players Matt talked about. It was almost as if he were catching
her up on an era of life she had missed out on when she moved. And to hear him tell it, Christy actually felt sorry she hadn’t been there for some of the hometown events. The blizzards, the class picnics, the parades, and the football games all sounded so appealing. Nothing like that had been part of her high school years in Escondido.

Matt conducted a tour of the baseball field and the new soccer field before driving her to the back side of the high school. He parked the truck and challenged her to a race to the top of the bleachers that overlooked the football field. Matt won.

Christy reached the top, laughing and yelling, “No fair! You had a head start in the parking lot. And you’ve probably done this before, right?” She stood in front of him with her hands on her hips, trying to catch her breath.

“A time or two,” Matt said, only slightly out of breath.

Christy turned to survey the football field. “I suppose you have some great stories about victories you’ve won on this field in the past few years.”

“No,” Matt said. “I spent most of my time warming the bench. We had some really good players this year. Do you remember Kevin Johnson? He won a scholarship to Michigan State.”

“You’re kidding. That’s awesome.” As soon as Christy said “awesome,” she thought of Doug. “Awesome” was Doug’s favorite word. Why did she feel funny thinking about him when she was with Matt? Wasn’t it normal, even a good thing, to have lots of guys as friends?

If she had been alone, Christy would have sat down on the bleachers in the coolness of the early July evening in peaceful Brightwater. She would have drawn in the familiar fragrances in the air: the cut
grass, the hint of a dairy farm to the south, and the faint scent of the metal bleachers cooling after baking all day in the summer sunshine.

It would have been a perfect opportunity for her to do some soul-searching and to discover why she had spent the last few years experiencing such yo-yo emotions over guys, especially Todd. She knew she didn’t want to go with Doug simply because Todd was gone, but she didn’t have a plan. Her responses to guys always had been based on what came to her at the moment. Christy realized she had never determined ahead of time what she wanted in her relationships.

And how did she feel about Matt? How did he feel about her? Why had he sought her out? He seemed to have bounced back from the comment she had made earlier about how he should tell her the details of his dating life since he knew hers. But he hadn’t answered her question about Melissa, which led Christy to believe they had gone together in the past.

Unfortunately, that was all the soul-searching she was able to do as she stood at the top of the bleachers, because she wasn’t alone. Matt already was heading back to the truck, promising her one more surprise on his tour.

He drove through Brightwater, heading north until he came to Ollie’s Peewee Golf, where he pulled into the parking lot and stopped the truck. With a smile he turned to Christy and said, “Does this bring back any memories?”

Christy held her hand to her forehead and lowered her head. “I’ve been trying to forget,” she said with a laugh.

“Your birthday party,” Matt prompted her.

Christy looked up and shook her head. “That was in fifth grade. My aunt Marti came for my birthday that July and insisted I invite
everyone from my class so it would be my first boy-girl party. How can you still remember that?”

“Easy,” Matthew said, opening his door and getting out. “That was the first time Paula told me you liked me.”

8

s soon as his declaration was made, he shut the door, leaving Christy to open her own door. Her heart pounded as she squeezed the door handle.
Now what do I say?

Christy hesitated before joining Matt at the gate that led to the miniature golf course. He was pulling some money from his pocket and paying the girl at the front ticket booth.

“Are we actually going to play miniature golf?” Christy asked.

“Sure. Or don’t you do that anymore?” He didn’t appear interested in discussing his last statement about Paula. At least not now.

Christy wasn’t sure what to say.

“Come on,” Matt said, handing her a golf club and a bright blue golf ball. “It’ll be fun.”

Matt was right. Playing golf at Ollie’s was fun. She sunk a hole in one at the windmill and burst out laughing, holding her club high in the air as a victory salute.

The other miniature golfers watched Christy and Matt as they broke into a pretend argument in which Matt accused her of cheating.

“There is no way I could have cheated!” Christy exclaimed. “You saw the whole thing. I lined it up, just like you’ve been telling me, I hit
it through the windmill, and it rolled right into the hole. You’re just worried because I might catch up with your score.”

“I’ve never seen anyone get a hole in one on the windmill,” Matt said. “And I’m not worried about your catching up. You would have to score a hole in one on the remaining five for that to happen.”

“Oh yeah?” Christy said playfully, pushing up her sweatshirt’s sleeves. “Then watch me.”

Matt followed her to the next green, where she put down her blue ball and carefully lined herself up with the zigzag obstacle course. She took extra time evaluating the direction her ball would most likely go.

“Anytime now,” Matt said.

Christy turned and glared at him. “Do you mind? I’m concentrating.”

Matt held up his hands and took two steps back, giving Christy her space and silence. With great flare she whacked her ball. It flew over the obstacles, past the hole, and onto the cement sidewalk that lined the course. She slowly turned to see Matt’s reaction. He had his hand over his mouth, but his brown eyes were laughing at her.

“Okay, okay,” she said. “That might have been a little too hard. I think I should get to do it over.”

“Nope,” Matt said, stepping up to the green. “You have to play the ball where it lands.”

“Oh, come on! This is peewee golf! Have you no mercy?”

“Not much. Would you mind stepping aside?”

Christy went after her ball, hoping she hadn’t had an audience for that last hit the way she had at the windmill. Glancing around, she noticed that she and Matt were the only high school or college-age
students there. Aside from a few parents playing with younger children, the crowd was mostly grade school kids.

She smiled, remembering her eleventh birthday and how Aunt Marti had tried, with little success, to organize all twenty-three kids who showed up. Christy remembered clearly the moment Paula came up to Christy by the volcano on the fourth hole and whispered in her ear, “I told Matthew Kingsley that you like him and you want him to give you a birthday kiss.”

Christy remembered feeling paralyzed by Paula’s announcement yet thrilled enough to catch her breath and ask, “And what did he say?”

Paula’s response had been, “He’s such a brat. He said he would rather kiss a toad.”

Christy could remember feeling as if a grenade had landed in a previously undisturbed corner of her heart, the corner where she hid her secret wishes and dreams. That corner was secluded, hidden from view so she could go deep within herself when she wanted to be alone. If she lingered there a moment or an hour, she always emerged with her lips turned up and her cheeks rosy with hope.

That fateful July 27, seven years ago, was the first time someone had broken through the wall of that secluded corner and destroyed one of her private dreams. And to think that someone had been Matthew Kingsley, with his merciless I’d-rather-kiss-a-toad statement.

Christy returned to the green with a scowl on her face and a strong feeling that she wanted to punch Matt in the stomach and see how he liked it. She played the last four holes with him quietly, smiling politely when he did a little dance at the last hole to celebrate his overwhelming victory. But inside she was simmering. Why couldn’t boys be taught to
be nice to girls? Why did she go on liking him all those years after he said that?

As they turned in their clubs, Matt asked if she would like to get something else to eat.

“I don’t know what time it is,” Christy said. “I should probably get back.”

“You’re right,” Matt said. “It’s probably close to ten.”

He drove to her grandparents’ home, his silence matching hers. When they pulled into the driveway, Matt asked, “Are you okay, Christy? You turned kind of quiet.”

Oh, so now you’re Mr. Sensitivity, and you suddenly realize that girls have feelings?

She didn’t think she wanted to open up to him now, even if he might be understanding. After all, he was the reason the cloud of gloom had come over her—or rather, a much younger version of Matt was the one responsible for her problem. How fair was it to blame this Matt for that Matthew?

“I don’t know,” Christy finally said. “I have to think about a lot of stuff from the past and …” She didn’t know how to finish her thought.

Matt looked concerned. “Was it too much? Did I overdo the whole journey into the past?”

“No, it wasn’t you. I mean, it wasn’t that. It was.” Drawing in a breath, she decided to be honest. “It was at the peewee golf place. I was thinking back to my birthday party and when Paula told me that you said you would rather kiss a toad than kiss me.”

Matt looked shocked. The windows of his truck were open, and in the awkward silence all they heard was the loud symphony of night crickets.

“I was ten,” Matt said weakly in his defense. “Eleven, maybe.”

“I know,” Christy said.

“Are you still holding that against me?”

Christy looked down at her hands in her lap and felt foolish for bringing it up. “No, I guess not.”

“If it helps at all,” Matt said, reaching over and placing his hand on Christy’s shoulder, “I would never say that now. I’d rather kiss you than a frog any day.”

BOOK: Departures
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