Copyright Staci Stallings, 2005
There were nights during the summer that Rebecca didn’t think she would make it through the next five minutes without him. He had come to visit twice—once for the Fourth of July and once in the middle of August to help her take some of her things back to the dorms. But when she walked back into the dorms the Tuesday before school started again, it felt like she’d never been gone.
“Hey, roomie!” she said, knocking into the door frame with the two suitcases and reading lamp she’d carried up with her. “I’m back!”
“Hey! You made it.” Holly stepped out from inside her closet. Not one inch of her looked like the pale, white, rail-thin woman Rebecca had said good-bye to three months before.
“You like?” Holly spun so Rebecca could examine the shortened hair and deep, surfer tan.
“You look… wow.”
Holly grabbed Rebecca and dragged her into the room. “So how was your summer? Mine was great. Tell me everything. Did Eric come and see you? You said he was going to…” When she got to her bed, Holly sat down with an excited bounce on it.
“Whoa! Slow down.” Rebecca threw her suitcases to the bed. “I’m still trying to catch my breath from those stairs.”
“They’re as bad as ever, huh? We should’ve been smart and gotten a room on the second floor this year.”
“Tell me about it.”
Holly bounced up and down on the edge of her already-made bed. “So, come on. Dish already. Have you seen Eric yet? Are you guys like all hot and heavy now, or what?”
Rebecca perused her roommate. “Girl, you need to calm down a little bit. First of all, we are still together.”
“Yea.” Holly clapped excitedly. “I knew it.”
Sitting down on the bed, Rebecca reached for the suitcase zipper. “Second of all, there are no wedding plans or anything like that in the near future.”
“Yes, but that’ll happen. It’s just a matter of time.” For someone who hadn’t led the most sheltered life in the world, Holly sure was excited about the little things. She kept bouncing on the bed like a five-year-old. “So have you seen him yet?”
Rebecca swung the suitcase to the floor and started unpacking it onto her bed. “I called him when I got into town. We’re meeting at the Student U at seven for some pool and burgers.”
“Pool and burgers. Perfect first date back.”
“Well, I wouldn’t call it a date per-say. We’re just getting together with some of his friends.” She kicked her shoes off under the bed.
“Jeez. What is up with you? You’re like Little Miss Excitement today.”
“Are you kidding? A whole summer with Mom the Merry-go-round? I’m so happy to be back I could scream.”
That stopped the unpacking. “So, how is your mom?”
“Oh, you know.” The excitement fell away. “Same song, fifty-ninth verse.” She heaved a sigh. “But enough about that. What’re you taking this fall? You said something about social work?”
“Fifteen hours. Two social work classes, the last history I’ll ever take in my life, a group speech thing, and humanities something. I don’t remember. How about you?”
“Twelve hours. I’m not crazy like some people. Basics mostly although I am taking a photography class that should be fun.”
“Photography? I didn’t know you were a picture buff.”
Holly stood and bounced into the closet. When she came back, she had a camera the size of two fists.
“I used all my tip money to buy it.”
The phone rang, and Holly abandoned the camera to answer it. “Hello? Oh, hi, Eric. Yeah, it’s Holly. Just a second she’s here.” Holly held out the phone to Rebecca keeping her hand on the mouthpiece. “It’s for you. It’s Eric.” She emphasized his name with a swoon and a smile.
“You’re pathetic.” Rebecca took the phone from her, but really did swoon at the thought of talking to him. “Hello.”
“Well, hello, Sunshine. You finally made it back, huh?”
“Cool. I’ll be there to get you in about thirty minutes.”
“Me neither.” They signed off and hung up.
On her bed Holly sat, legs crossed, examining her camera. “Sounds like a hot date to me.”
The invitation ran through Rebecca’s brain twice before it got to her mouth. “Well, why don’t you come with me find out for yourself?”
Holly looked up. “Me?”
“Sure. Why not? His friends are coming. You can be my friend. It’ll even the odds.” Rebecca marched to where Holly sat. “You’re going to wear this bed out if you sit on it this entire semester too. It’s time to see how the other half lives.”
The intensity of Holly’s gaze threw Rebecca off whatever it was she was going to say next.
“Did I ever tell you thanks for last semester?”
Rebecca took a step backward. “I don’t know. Did you?”
“If I didn’t, thanks.”
Soft peace flowed through her. “You’re welcome.”
There was a knock on the door.
“Good grief. It’s like Grand Central Station in here,” Holly said as she swung the door open.
“Oh, hi. Is Rebecca here?” the little girl voice could belong to no other.
Rebecca stepped sideways to see the speaker. “Emily!” She dropped the clothes in her hands, flung out her arms, and ran to her friend who ran to her.
“Rebecca!” They hugged and bounced to the sides like a Weeble-Wobble. “Oh, I missed you, girl.”
“Not half as much as I missed you. Did you get my last email?”
“The one about My Attorney?” Emily gushed. “Oh, it made me cry.”
“Me, too.” Then Rebecca’s senses came back to her. “Holly, you remember Emily.”
Demurely Holly nodded. “Yeah. Hi, Em.”
“Hi.” Emily pulled the bottom of her turquoise shirt down, wrapped her arms over themselves, and turned her attention back to Rebecca. “So you just got back then?”
“Little while ago. It’s been a zoo around here. How’s Dena?”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you. She decided to move into an apartment off campus.”
“Oh, you’re kidding. What about Bible Study?”
Emily shrugged. “I’ve got a single room this year. Lots of space, plenty of room.”
“Cool. So tomorrow night then?”
“You got it. Seven o’clock. Don’t be late.” Emily stood in the middle of the room as Rebecca began transferring her clothes to the closet. “So will Eric be joining you?”
“There’s a yes,” Holly said from her bed.
“And I’ve got a secret friend coming too,” Rebecca said, smiling at Holly who looked at her in annoyance. “It’s so secret even she doesn’t know about it.”
Emily looked at Holly. “Cool. I can’t wait to meet her.”
The phone rang, and Rebecca groaned. “I’m never going to get unpacked at this rate.” She picked it up. “Yes?”
She surveyed her side of the room, which looked like a bomb had gone off. “Can you give me a second to kick my mess under the bed?” Then she looked at her friends. “Better yet, I’ve got two wall flowers who want to join me. Do you mind?” She sent a teasing grin to the other two who instantly started waving the invitation off.
“Nah, I don’t mind. Bring them along. The more the merrier.”
“Cool. We’ll be right down!” She let the phone fall back to the cradle. Her gaze grazed Holly. “Okay, get your shoes on, ladies. We’ve got a hot date to get to.”
“Oh, no. Really,” Emily said, tightening her grip on herself with a lift of her shoulders. “I’ve got stuff to do.”
Holly was talking right on top of her. “And I’ve really got…”
“Things to do. I know. I know. Well, you know what? Your lame excuses don’t work with me.” She pointed at Holly. “You, get your shoes on.” She pointed at Emily. “You, don’t leave until I get my shoes on.”
Emily glanced back at the door. “But I’ve really got to…”
“You’re going. No more arguments.”
Upon finding out her friends would be accompanying them, Eric had told himself to play it cool when she came down those steps. However, cool was forgotten the second she hopped down the last stair. “Hey, handsome.”
His smile swelled his heart. “Hey, Sunshine.” When he pulled her to him, he had to close his eyes to keep the world from spinning right out from under his feet. Another squeeze and he let her go only far enough to be able to look at her. “You feel better than I remember.”
“Funny. You feel just like I remember.”
He pulled her to him again for another hug despite the two on-lookers.
“Ah, aren’t they cute?” Holly said.
“Adorable,” Emily affirmed with a happy smile.
If he could’ve gotten away with kissing her, he would have, but considering they had an audience, he decided it could wait. He never really released her, more spun her under his arm, and turned to her friends. “Holly. Em. Did you bring your money?”
“Money?” Holly asked in panic.
He leaned closer to Rebecca. “You were supposed to remind them about the money.”
Rebecca hit her forehead. “Oh, darn. I forgot. You were supposed to remind me to remind them to bring their money.”
He shook his head. “How many times do I have to tell you? You can’t hustle people unless you remind them to bring their money. It worked with me.”
She took a stab at his ribs. “I did not hustle you.”
His hand barely got between her elbow and his body. “Says you. I distinctly remember someone here, and I’m not naming any names mind you, but someone who ran the table on me twice.”
The smirk that came onto her face was priceless. “That’s ‘cause you can’t play.”
“Oh!” He put his hand to his chest. “Do you see what I have to put up with?”
Rebecca looked to the ceiling. “You’re such a drama king.”
Their guests laughed.
“What do you say, ladies? Shall we hit the bricks?”
If she had ever had so much fun in her life, Rebecca didn’t remember it. They commandeered the three tables at the back of the room. It was mix and match singles and partners for three hours before Ryan, Desi, Ransom, and Zoë had to call it a night. Jeremy had finally loosened up despite the fact that Gwen hadn’t joined them. Rebecca wanted to ask, but she knew now wasn’t the time. By the end even Emily who was less than the best pool player ever seemed to be having fun.
“Come on, Em,” Rebecca called from her perch on the stool even though Emily was her opponent in this particular game.
Eric sat between her and Holly, who was by now the lone spectator.
“Hey, no fraternizing with the enemy,” he said in annoyance.
Rebecca snuggled up to him. “Ooo, fraternizing. That’s a mighty big word. You get a thesaurus for your birthday?”
“A thesaurus? What’s that?”
“Be quiet,” Emily warned from the pool table where she was leaning to make her shot, clearly trying not to laugh. “I’m concentrating here.”
“Oh, sorry,” Rebecca whispered.
On the other side of the table, Jeremy, Emily’s partner, pointed to the twelve she was shooting at. “Hit it right here. Not real hard. Just tap it.”
Like a pogo stick exploding, Emily wrenched the pool stick back and then forward, sending the white ball skittering across the table. She jumped back in fright as it hit two balls off to the left before it ever got close to the twelve. Her hand cupped over her mouth in horror. “Ah, man. That was really bad. Sorry.”
With patience Rebecca never would’ve guessed him to have, Jeremy stepped over to Emily. He was barely an inch taller than her, and not big by any stretch of the imagination. But next to Emily’s lithe figure, Twiggy would’ve looked big.
“It’s okay.” Jeremy leaned next to her on the pool table. “Here, let me show you. You’re shooting like this.” He held his stick level and then pushed the front of it into the air. “You’ve got to keep it level like this.” He demonstrated the technique.
Without touching the table, Emily practiced next to him.
He appraised her effort. “Yeah. Like that. Better.”
Emily nodded, and Jeremy turned to Rebecca with a grin. “Your shot, Sunshine.”
“Hey,” Eric called from his seat. “She’s my sunshine. You stay away from her.”
“I don’t see a ring yet,” Jeremy shot back from across the table.
Eric ducked his head and took a drink of water. “Give it some time. We’re a work in progress.”
The smile came of its own volition to Rebecca’s heart as she lined up her shot. She put her head down as close as she could to the table, knowing every person in the room was now watching her. “Eight ball, corner pocket.” She tapped the pocket with her stick.
Eric stood from his seat and strode over to Jeremy who stood at the far end of the table. He put his arm around his friend’s neck. “Watch this.”
Her concentration zeroed in on the target, and Rebecca slid the stick forward. The white ball rolled solidly across the table.
“See there. Wait for it. Wait for it,” Eric said, getting more excited with every roll. The cue ball knocked into the eight, which rolled twice and dropped into the hole. “And BAM!” He did a little dance. “We win. You lose. A-ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.”
“Nice game.” Rebecca held out her hand to Emily who had to uncoil her arms from in front of her to return the handshake. “And I promise I’ll leave him at home next time.”
“Oh that we would be so lucky,” Jeremy said with a shake of his head.
“Hey, watch it.” Eric stepped away from him. “I’ll take you out right here.”
Jeremy crouched down. “You want a piece of me?”
“Bring it on.”
“Boys. Boys!” Rebecca said, breaking into the mock fight. “Let’s be civil in front of our guests.”
Instantly both guys straightened up and waved to the girls sheepishly. “Oh, yeah. Hi.”
Emily leaned into Rebecca with her eyebrows raised. “Are they always like this?”
“Only when they’re showing off.” She shook her head as if she was frustrated. Truth was her heart was so happy she thought it might burst.
Jeremy looked at his watch. “Well, as much as I hate to call it a night…”
“Yeah, I’d better get my three dates home,” Eric said, swaggering with the comment.
Rebecca surveyed him. “You are so pathetic.”
“Hey, I’m taking three good-looking girls home tonight. If that’s pathetic, then I’ll be pathetic any day of the week.”
Jeremy shrugged. “He’s got a point.”
Eric pointed at him. “See? You hear that? I’ve got a point.”
With pleading eyes, Jeremy looked at Rebecca. “Would you please take him home already?”
“Would you?” she asked skeptically.
“Hey, sunshine, you brought him. You take him home.”
Eric put his stick up in the holder and back-handed Jeremy on the chest. “I told you. She’s my sunshine, not yours.”
“There’s no ring on that finger.”
“It’s that work in progress thing, remember?”
Holly, Emily, and Rebecca all laughed as Jeremy shook his head. With him in the lead, they pushed out onto the steps. “I give up. Good evening, ladies. It was fun, and now I wish you good luck as Mr. Fantastic here takes you home.”
Rebecca nodded. “Thanks. We’re going to need it.”
“Later all,” Jeremy said with a wave.
Eric put his arm around Rebecca. “Don’t burn the place down ‘til I get there.”
Jeremy waved again although he never turned around.
Questioningly, Rebecca looked at Eric. He leaned into her so it wasn’t a broadcast. “He moved in with me two weeks ago.”
“Ah.” She raised her chin in understanding.
They piled into Eric’s car and were back at the dorms in minutes. Her friends obviously knew the fine art of disappearing to leave a couple alone because with only two good-byes and a see ya, they were out of the car and headed up the walk.
After a moment, Rebecca laid her head back on the headrest and then let it fall to the side. “That was fun.”
“Yes, it was.”
Worry traced through her as her memory spun back through the evening. “Is Jeremy okay? He seemed kind of down.”
“It’s day-by-day. First his parents, then Gwen. It’s been pretty rough.”
“She left then?”
She sighed. “Tell him I’ll be praying for him.”
Softness flowed through Eric’s eyes. “I’ll tell him.” He took her hand in his and kissed her fingers. “Did I tell you how much I missed you?”
“Couldn’t be half as much as I missed you.” She smiled at him, thanking heaven above for this one moment in time and praying there would be many, many more. “So are you coming to Bible Study tomorrow night?”
“You bet your life. I wouldn’t miss it.”
The breath settled her lids over her eyes. When the backs of his finger brushed across the side of her cheek, it lulled her body into a peace she wasn’t sure she would ever wake from.
“Thank You, God for Rebecca,” he said softly. She felt his advance even with her eyes closed. When he brushed his lips across hers, every other thing in the world floated away from her.
She opened her eyes and found forever gazing back at her. “You think we could ever be thankful enough for this?”
“I wouldn’t see how. I think it’s got to be a miracle.“
She smiled and winked at him. “No. It’s a work in progress, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. Seems like I remember that part.”
Remembering had nothing to do with it as she relaxed into his arms. This place, right here, felt like the only place she had ever been meant to occupy. Right and safe. Happy and loved. As she released it, the rest of life drifted away from her, and she watched it float away.