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Authors: Robin Jones Gunn

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BOOK: Departures
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Mrs. Kingsley greeted them with hugs, and with a twinkle in her eye she said, “Matt had such a nice time with you, Christy. He said you were a real good sport about the journey to all your old schools.”

“I liked it,” Christy said. “It was a lot of fun. I thought he was very creative to think of it and go out of his way like that.” Christy was surprised to find that she had a sweet, warm feeling inside when she talked about Matt and that she was looking forward to seeing him that evening.

“Did he tell you about his big decision?” Mrs. Kingsley asked.

“Yes, he told me how he became a Christian last summer. I was really happy to hear that.”

Mrs. Kingsley looked surprised. “I meant his decision about which college to attend. He’s been offered two scholarships.”

“Oh,” Christy said. “No, he didn’t tell me.”

“That boy,” Mrs. Kingsley said, putting her hand on her hip. She turned to Christy’s mom and said, “One of the offers is from a college in Southern California. Rancho Corona. Have you heard of it?”

Mom shook her head. “Where is it?”

“I’m not exactly sure. Matt knows.”

“It’s not far from Lake Elsinore,” Christy said. “I have some friends who are thinking about going there. I haven’t been there, but I hear it’s a good school.”

“The other scholarship is for a college in South Carolina. Or is it North Carolina?” Mrs. Kingsley said. “Anyway, he needs to decide quickly. I thought he was meeting with you, Christy, so he could ask if you had any friends at Rancho Corona and to see if you had any information about it. He received the notices a week ago, and we’ve been so busy we haven’t been able to spend much time researching either school.”

Christy’s imagination was running ahead of her. Rancho Corona was less than an hour from Escondido, where she lived. She started to imagine what it would be like if Matthew Kingsley came to California in the fall and went to college less than an hour away.

“I’ll be sure to tell him what I know about the school when I see him tonight,” Christy said.

“Good,” Mrs. Kingsley said. “Now, let’s put up these decorations. I have to pick up the flowers, but I thought I’d wait until a little later
so they would stay fresh. It’s going to be a hot one today. I asked that they bring all the church fans into the fellowship hall for us, but as you can see, we only have two. When I run out for the flowers later, I’ll stop by home and get our box fans.”

For the next three hours, Christy worked alongside her mom stringing crepe paper streamers while Dad and David set up all nineteen round tables. Then they all worked at covering the tables with white tablecloths. Mrs. Kingsley returned with the fans and a carful of flowers. Each table was supposed to have a fresh flower centerpiece, which Christy and Mom assembled on the stage in front of one of the fans. Dad and David went to find the rest of the chairs in various other rooms.

“I had no idea there would be so much to do,” Christy said. “I hope we finish in time.”

“We should be okay,” Mom said. “I’m a little concerned about how hot it will be in here when the reception begins at five.”

“Would it be okay if I went to the church kitchen and found us something to drink?” Christy asked.

“That would be wonderful,” Mrs. Kingsley said. “And if a pitcher of iced tea isn’t already made up in the refrigerator, you go ahead and make one. Help yourself to whatever you find in there.”

Christy knew the church’s layout by heart. The original church building was nearly one hundred years old, but the kitchen and fellowship hall had been added in the last thirty years. Unfortunately, no one had seen the value of including air conditioning when they built the addition. Or else air conditioning seemed like a luxury thirty years ago.

Christy found six women in the kitchen and one man. They were all older, like her grandparents, and they were working like busy bees.
The women wore church aprons, which Christy recognized. She was sure those were the same aprons worn by every person who ever helped in that kitchen from the day she was born.

“Hello,” one of the women said, pulling a large cake pan from the oven. The yellow cake was just a tad too brown on top. The kitchen was very hot, and Christy noticed four fans were going, which accounted for the fans Mrs. Kingsley thought were missing.

“Hi,” Christy said back. All of them turned to look at her. Some smiled, some seemed to scowl. Christy recognized nearly all of them as old-time, faithful churchgoers and her grandparents’ friends.

One of the women recognized her and said, “Why, Christina Miller, how wonderful to see you! Look at you … so grown-up!”

The woman was Mrs. Abbott. She had been Christy’s Sunday school teacher in fourth grade. A chorus of welcomes and exclamations followed along with lots of hugs. By the time Christy explained the purpose of her mission to the kitchen, her cheeks were smeared with lipstick and perspiration. The kitchen help offered Christy a pitcher of iced tea along with a stack of red plastic cups.

She thanked the group of cooks and left, glad that she was working in the fellowship hall and not in the kitchen. She couldn’t help but wonder if more lipstick and perspiration would be in store for them later this evening. Perhaps she should be a nice big sister and prepare David for the onslaught, just so he didn’t make a complete goof of himself when the white-haired ladies began to swarm around him.

11

s predicted, the fellowship hall was sweltering hot at five that evening, and many sweet old people swarmed to hug and kiss Christy and David. She had warned her little brother and was glad to see he had taken her stern words to heart, accepting the affectionate greetings with a little smile.

Aunt Marti and Uncle Bob showed up late. Uncle Bob had come by the church that afternoon and brought sandwiches while the group was arranging flowers. Bob helped Dad set up chairs before going back to the hotel. That evening Uncle Bob arrived carrying two more standing fans, which Christy guessed he had bought on the way.

Christy watched with amazement as Aunt Marti turned into the life of the party. Marti kissed every one of the perspiring old ladies and charmed all the older men, who enjoyed telling her how they “remembered her when she was in pigtails.” She always had been the one to set up parties for Christy, and Aunt Marti was strict about keeping her social obligations. Christy shouldn’t have been surprised at the transformation from the evening before, but she was.

Christy’s mom, on the other hand, busied herself serving everyone. Each time Christy saw her, Mom had another pitcher of lemonade in her hand or was directing Dad to find another chair for someone
who had gone through the buffet line and returned to his table to find his chair taken.

Christy mingled some, visiting with distant relatives and familiar people she had grown up with at church. Mostly she watched the door, waiting for Matt to arrive. Not many teenagers were in the crowd, but several kids David’s age were there. David was off having a good time with them, which relieved Christy because she didn’t have her little brother following her around all evening.

She had to admit she was eager to see Matt again. He had said he would be late. How late? Should she keep glancing at the door, watching for him? Or should she try not to think about him and focus on something else?

Settling in at one of the tables situated farthest away from the hub of activity, Christy decided to go on a little journey to the secret corner of her heart. She hadn’t had a chance to explore all her thoughts and feelings last night. As long as she kept her plastic fork in her hand and kept taking tiny bites of the chicken, rice, and broccoli casserole on her plate, none of the older people at her table would try to strike up a conversation with her.

The first thing Christy tried to figure out was what had happened between Matt and her last night. If Uncle Bob hadn’t come out to the driveway when he did, would Matt have kissed her? Would she have let him? And more important, did she want him to? What would that kiss have meant?

Christy stared at the piece of broccoli she had just skewered with her fork. What if she hadn’t moved to California? Would she and Matt have ended up together? How did she feel about him now? Was it different from what she had felt in elementary school? Of course it was.
But what was it? Friendship? Comradeship? Intrigue? Interest? Still a little crush? And what about Melissa?

Why didn’t Matt answer my question about whether he was going out with Melissa? Would I be stepping into the middle of a relationship if I let myself become interested in Matt? And why would I let myself think about liking Matt when I’ve already decided it’s too soon after Todd to make any decisions about Doug? How do I feel about Doug? What about Matt? Am I really over Todd?

Christy pushed the broccoli to her plate’s edge. This was all too much to figure out in a stuffy fellowship hall with the taste of broccoli lingering in her mouth. This kind of thinking would be much better at the beach, with the wind kissing her face.

The beach was where she had met Todd. And from that first day, she was attracted to him. As she got to know him, Christy found something deep and spiritual about him that made him even more attractive to her.

Over the years their relationship sometimes went up, sometimes down; yet she had learned one thing would never change: Todd would always love God. And Todd challenged her to love God with all her heart, soul, strength, and mind. Even if she never saw Todd again, she knew he always would be tucked in her heart because no guy had ever made her think, feel, or grow the way Todd had.

With a sigh, Christy looked around the room. Her eyes were misting over just thinking about Todd. She blinked quickly and checked the door to see if Matt had walked in yet.

See? I’m not really thinking about Todd. I’m thinking about Matt. I’m eager to see Matt again. That must mean something. If I didn’t care about Matt, I wouldn’t be eager to see him, would I?

Glancing at her grandparents, who were positioned beneath a banner that declared 50 Years, Christy wondered how anyone in today’s world could stay with the same person for fifty years unless they made a firm commitment and kept all their promises to remain faithful to that commitment.

Christy slowly mouthed the word
commitment
, as if it were the key to this puzzle she was trying to put together. It certainly was a main ingredient in any kind of relationship that was going to stand the test of time.

Her commitment to Todd had come to an end, and she wasn’t ready to make a commitment to Doug.
What if Matt ends up going to school in California? Would he want to spend time with me? I think I’d like to spend time with him. But what kind of commitment would one childhood friend expect from another? Or are we already somehow committed simply because our lives were so connected in the past?

Before Christy could dig herself any deeper in her trench of contemplation, she felt a hand on her shoulder, and a deep voice said, “Christy?”

Christy spun around to see Uncle Bob’s smiling face. “Didn’t you see me waving? I thought you were looking right at me, but you didn’t respond.”

“I was daydreaming,” Christy said quietly.

“The photographer would like for the whole family to join your grandparents for pictures.”

Christy pushed back her chair and followed her uncle. She noticed that everyone else was already standing under the 50 Years banner, and she hoped the group hadn’t been watching her stare dreamily into space.

The pictures took only a few minutes, and then it was time to cut the cake. Christy stood back, smiling at the cute way Grandma posed for the camera and grinned at Grandpa. Christy thought Grandma was acting as if she were a young girl again and this were her original wedding reception.

Grandpa seemed unaffected by this historic moment in their relationship. He stood there with a steady expression on his face, his hands folded in front of him. When Grandma held up the bite of cake for him to eat, he swallowed it in two bites. Then it was his turn to feed a bite of cake to Grandma. Before he offered it to her, he leaned over and whispered something in her ear.

BOOK: Departures
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