The bed in Jeremy’s new room was much nicer than the mattress in the hole-in-the-wall closet of the previous apartment. Jeremy’s gaze traced across his new room—the bigger of the two in this apartment. It should’ve been considering he was paying three-quarters of the rent. That was okay. At least he now had a decent place to lay his head.
Eschewing the thought of studying, he sat down on the bed and pulled his iPod out. Playing spoons was fun. Emily herself could be fun if she’d let herself go long enough to be. He smiled at that thought as he twisted the little dial and found one of the songs he’d downloaded for her.
One hand cradled his head on the pillow as he lay down and arched his neck to the ceiling before settling down. The light was still on, but he didn’t care. He didn’t plan to listen for long. Only long enough to feel what it was like to be in her presence once more.
“’Bout time you guys show up,” Eric said with a lilt in his voice on Thursday afternoon.
“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” Rebecca leaned over and kissed him lightly. “Just be glad we didn’t accept all the dates we were offered between class and here.”
For as easy as Rebecca made eating with the guys look, Emily still couldn’t quite get her nerves to think it was no big deal. She half-smiled at Jeremy who half-smiled back, and that was enough to send her gaze flitting away from him.
“Come on before the mob gets here.” Rebecca grabbed Emily and dragged her over to the counter.
She wanted to ask Rebecca about Jeremy—if he had a girlfriend, if he was the kind of guy who went out with the kind of girl like her, but she didn’t dare. It was too likely that the mere asking part would get back to Jeremy who would probably laugh at the very idea. Instead, she ordered, made small talk, and tried not to think too much about him.
When they got back to the table, Eric was razing Jeremy about something. Emily was careful to be as inconspicuous as possible as she unloaded the plate and glass off the tray.
“What’s so funny?” Rebecca asked as Emily put the tray on the table next to them.
“Brilliant here.” Eric pointed to Jeremy. “He went to sleep Tuesday night and completely missed all of his classes Wednesday morning. I think Em wore him out playing spoons.”
Flames shot into Emily’s face at the implication as she climbed onto the stool. She ducked her head.
“I forgot to set my alarm,” Jeremy said, putting his elbow that was closest to Emily on the edge of the table, seemingly trying to put more space between them. “One time in four years and he wants to call out the National Guard.”
Eric shook his head at his friend. “I don’t remember you being this much of a space case the last time we lived together.”
Very gingerly Emily took a bite as she listened. She was, after all, sitting at the table. Listening should be allowed from this proximity.
Rebecca leaned over to Eric. “I think you should go easy on the poor guy. He is after all having to put up with you again.”
“She has a point,” Jeremy said, and he smiled with a wicked edge.
“Well, if you ask me, I think the whole Gwen-thing rewired his brain or something,” Eric shot back.
Emily bit off the smallest amount of her sandwich that could still be called a bite and glanced over at Jeremy to gage his reaction. She wasn’t quite sure who Gwen was or how she fit into the general scheme of things, but it was clear from the instant twist of pain on Jeremy’s face that Eric has scored a direct hit. Across the table both gazes fell, and for a full thirty seconds there was a deadly silence. She wanted to say something, to deflect the comment that had already found its mark, but her thoughts wouldn’t line up long enough for her to follow them.
“So, Emily,” Rebecca finally said, and instantly Emily’s attention snapped up to her friend, “you doing the youth group again this week?”
For a minute Emily had to put her hand to her mouth because she was chewing, but she nodded, feeling bad for not being able to instantly pick up the conversation. Quickly she took a drink. “Yeah. You got any words of wisdom?”
“Good luck?” Rebecca laughed, but it was forced. There was so much tension on the table, it was hard to talk around.
However, she did her best with a dramatic sigh. “I thought about doing something about Paul, you know his journeys from following the law to really following Christ, but I don’t know a great way to do that. Plus, I think they may all go to sleep on me like that one did last time.”
“One went to sleep?” Jeremy’s gaze swept over to hers so quickly, it swept all her thoughts right along with it.
Recovering but only with effort, she shrugged. “They say he does that a lot, but then again, I think my lack of teaching skills had something to do with it.”
He looked grateful for the rescue and more grateful for an alternative topic. “Well, what was your lesson?”
Again she sighed only this time it was real. “I asked them which kind of Jonah they are.” It was clear no one at the table understood, so she put down her sandwich and wiped her hands together. “Well, you know there’s the Jonah who heard God’s call, and then there’s the Jonah that took off because he didn’t want to do what God wanted. There’s the Jonah who did what God wanted, and there’s the Jonah who got mad because God saved people Jonah didn’t particularly like.” It had all sounded so good when she was mapping it out. It was difficult to explain how badly it had gone at the church.
“And they didn’t… what…? Discuss it, understand it?” Rebecca asked.
“Who knows?” True exasperation jumped from her. “They wouldn’t be quiet long enough to hear it.” Failure bumped into her, and she put her head down. “No matter what I try, it’s like they don’t even care.”
“Well, the important thing is you’re trying,” Eric said gently.
Gratefulness drifted through her as Emily looked over at him. They really were sweet even if they didn’t know how sunk she really was.
When everyone’s food was gone, Eric was the first to decide it was time to go. “Well, it’s that time again.”
“You coming later?” Rebecca asked him as the two of them stood, making plans for their next meeting, which obviously did not include their friends.
“So, did you recover?” Jeremy asked Emily, who looked up so fast as she was sliding off her chair, it almost toppled over.
“From cards.” His smile traced through her.
“Yeah, did you?” The comment from earlier drifted through her consciousness, and for a moment she wished she hadn’t asked.
He pulled on his soft suede jacket. “I’m ready for a rematch.”
“Be careful what you wish for.” She slung her backpack to her shoulder and picked up her Biochemistry book from the table.
They turned and walked to the doors together with Eric and Rebecca huddled in conversation behind them.
“Good luck with the youth group thing,” Jeremy said when they got to the doors. Her gaze swung to him skeptically. He didn’t exactly seem the type to care about kids at church. Then Jeremy leaned closer to her. “If you need a stun gun, I have the one I use on Eric when he gets out of line.”
The laugh attacked her before she knew it was there. Without really thinking about it, she reached over and smacked Jeremy’s arm. “Now that was mean.”
However, he simply shrugged good-naturedly. “Just a thought.”
At the end of the walk, the guys went one way, Rebecca and Emily the other. It was several paces down the sidewalk before Rebecca ventured into conversation. Emily knew it was coming by the sideways glances Rebecca kept shooting her direction, still she wasn’t ready when it actually came.
“You and Jeremy make a good match,” Rebecca said, and Emily had to swallow the skepticism in her throat to get out a reply.
“Match? I hardly know him.”
Rebecca glanced over at her. “Yeah, but he’s had such a rough time of it this last year. It would be nice if the two of you got together. You’d be good for him.”
Skepticism turned to outright disbelief and then to worry. She readjusted the strap of her backpack as she fought to spin the conversation in another direction. However, the questions she wanted to ask were the only things coming to mind. She struggled to decide if she should ask and how she should ask if she did. Finally, to fill the silence she asked as if it didn’t really matter. “So, why’s he had such a rough time anyway?”
It was five paces before Rebecca replied. “He was engaged last semester.”
That wasn’t what Emily was expecting to hear, and her heart plummeted. Trying to recover, she cleared her throat. “To be married?”
“Yeah.” Rebecca seemed to have trouble with the words. “Gwen was really nice too.”
“So what happened?” The warmth of the sunshine pulled out beads of sweat from under her loose shirt, and a drink sounded like a very good idea.
It wasn’t clear that Rebecca was even still breathing. Six steps and then ten. “He…” She cleared her throat. “They got into a big fight because he… well, he tried kind of tried to break Eric and me up in a not so subtle way.”
Anger along with disbelief slipped into Emily. “He tried to break you guys up, and now you want me to go out with him?”
They had reached the dorm doors, and Rebecca pulled it open for Emily to enter. “He really is a nice guy. He’s just kind of… lost.”
“You feel sorry for him, even after him trying to break you guys up?” Emily was having a lot of trouble following the logic of what Rebecca was telling her.
“It’s just… Well, I understand it now. I didn’t then.”
Side-by-side they climbed the steps to the third floor.
“Just think about it. Okay?” Rebecca said. “Don’t discount the possibility.”
“Okay.” But it wasn’t a sure-sounding agreement. “I guess I’ll see you later.”
And with that, they turned their separate ways. Emily tramped to her room and once inside threw her books to the desk. She took a good, long look at the cross she had managed to hang on the center window post the night before. “Oh, Holy Spirit, where is this going? You and I both know I like him, but I really don’t think he’s even noticed me.”
Her gaze slipped over to the box holding the confiscated spoons. As badly as she wanted to go where those thoughts were taking her, she yanked them to a stop with the ferocity of pulling up a horse before it takes you right off a cliff. “Rebecca’s imagining things. He’s Jeremy. He’s rich. He could have his pick of girls. Besides we don’t even know each other. Right?” She nodded twice. “Right. So get him out of your head, and get some real work done. That’s why you’re here after all.”
She picked up her book and her notebook and walked over to the chair. Curling up in it always made her feel closer to home, and the truth was this semester had been the toughest so far for leaving Colorado. Home seemed so very far away. She thought about calling but figured up the time difference and realized her mom was at work anyway. Maybe she would call them later—just to hear how everything was going.
The familiar queasy feeling of homesickness wrapped over her, and she pursed her lips together to stop thinking about it. By next December this would all be over, and she would be back for good. She needed to hang onto that thought. It was the only thing that had a chance of getting her through the next year.
Friday passed and then Saturday. Both nights Rebecca and Eric had gone out. First with Ryan and Desi and then by themselves. Jeremy stayed in the apartment working on his marketing project and trying to tell himself he didn’t care. He needed to concentrate on school anyway. Besides he had done the going out thing, he had done the finding the girlfriend thing, and it had almost wrecked everything else.
He pushed the thoughts of Gwen away as the next song started on his iPod. For a moment he didn’t recognize the words or the melody. Then softly he smiled. Emily. She had a way of making him smile even when he felt like smashing a wall—like at the Student Union when Eric made the crack about Gwen. Jeremy knew Eric regretted it immediately although they had never so much as talked about it since.
But that thought slid into the next of her, and the anger evaporated. She was fascinating in a way he couldn’t put into words. There was the shy thing, which was a pull, and there was, of course, her looks. She wasn’t conventional by any stretch of the imagination. Exotic. That was a good word for her dark skin and dark features. On top of being beautiful, it was clear she was intelligent, but she didn’t announce it to everyone like most of the people he knew did. In fact, in all probability no one other than the teachers would ever have guessed.
His gaze tripped over to the calendar on his wall, and the penciled note on the date of the following Saturday caught his attention bringing with it a wave of dread. How in the world did it get to be the middle of September so fast? Where had August gone, and for that matter July?
When his dad had told him about coming to town in September and them getting together so he could meet Amber, somehow he had convinced himself that September was a long way off, and that the parallel universe he’d found himself living in last May would have shifted back to normal by then. He looked over at his cell phone lying by the computer. He should call to see if they were still on for drinks before the concert. He really should. But the truth was, sounding normal when you can’t string six honest words together at a time wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to do.
He knew. After all, he’d had plenty of practice in the last five months. “Yeah, Dad. Everything’s great. Oh, you and Amber went to the opera? That’s great, Dad.”
It was all so phony, so hollow, so plastic. He wondered for a moment if his dad had even noticed his son was no longer engaged. He wondered if the charges that had gone over the credit card for the new computer had even registered. The new apartment, the tricked out car stereo, the summer vacation to Vermont? They were all meant to somehow make a dent in how horrible it was to lose everything in 24 hours—the love of his life and the belief that his parents were living the perfect life he was destined to emulate. What a joke.
If it hadn’t actually threatened to kill him, it might have been funny. Hate, anger, and helplessness over the whole stupid situation drained through him. Amber. He hated her. Okay, granted, he’d never actually met her, but still…
What was there to like about the woman your dad left your mom for? What was there to like about a woman who had existed for five years, meeting up with your dad on all those business trips he was always taking, without anyone knowing about her? What was there to like about a woman so enthralling to your father that he paid the bills but forgot you existed?
Jeremy slammed his book closed. He wished there was someone he could call—just to talk. Not about the horror of his life, just about… well, anything. Baseball. Hockey. The weather that hadn’t changed in three weeks. Anything so that he didn’t have to sit here and listen to the walls. In desperation he stalked out to the kitchen, grabbed the bag of potato chips, walked to the couch, and grabbed the remote. The big screen TV roared to life, and already he felt better. Two clicks through the satellite channels and he found something that wasn’t rotten. Yeah, this was definitely better.
Emily went through her options again. She wished she could think of someone she could ask, bounce a few ideas off of, call and say, “Help!” But Dena was surely out, as were Rebecca and Eric. Her parents would wonder what was going on if she called them two nights in a row. No. There was no one she could think to call. After letting herself be depressed about that for another few seconds, she sighed as she started back through her lesson planning. How many nights had she said it was just her and the Holy Spirit in this together? Well, she could add one more night to that list.
The noise level in the hall at St. Elizabeth’s was skull-cracking. Emily put her hand to her head and struggled to hear herself think. “Okay. If you were Paul and God sent you out to talk to people about Him, what would you say?”
“I’d say, ‘This is stupid. Can we go play?’” Matt, the red-headed vagrant of the group said.
Emily tried to ignore him. “What things would you tell them about how Jesus loves us?”
“Why do they get to play and we don’t?” Jalile, a smallish black girl, asked.
“Because we’re here to learn about God, not play dodgeball.” The strain came through Emily’s voice. “Now, back to Paul.”
“But why does everybody else get to play? It’s not fair.” Matt crossed his arms with a pout. “We wanna play. We don’t wanna learn about no old guy nobody cares about anymore.”
Summoning every piece of patience she had left, Emily retrained her gaze to her book. “Paul traveled all over the country, on foot and on the sea to spread the Good News. What do you think gave him his motivation?” It wasn’t a tough question as questions go. She looked up. “Jalile, what do you think made him do it?”
“I don’t know.” The girl shrugged dismissively. “His parents made him?”
“Cookies and Kool-Aid!” one of the sponsors yelled from the other side of the hall, and like a late spring avalanche the entire cavalcade of kids raced that direction. Without bothering to ask or get permission, her six followed. One was sick, or so they said. So was she.
This wasn’t working. As she stacked her books together, Emily fought the tears. It was all a big joke to them. They came because they had to—not because they wanted to. They stayed because they couldn’t leave, and yet they were never really here at all. She wondered if they were ever really anywhere. They seemed so scattered and searching. Lost, she thought, and her mind traipsed back to another conversation. The middle of her heart twanged. She didn’t know how to help them, and she certainly didn’t know how to help him.
What good was her faith if it helped no one else? With her books securely in front of her, she made her way over to the director who stood talking with several of the students.
“Yeah, what a throw!” Charlie said as if their primary purpose for being there was to recount the latest scores and highlights.
“I guess I’m going to take off if you don’t need anything else,” Emily said. The only thing keeping her standing was the books.
“Oh, yeah.” For a whole ten seconds Charlie remembered her. “Thanks for coming. See you next week.” And with that, he was back to base hits and touchdowns.
On her toe Emily turned and headed for the doors. Pandemonium reigned around her. Kids ran from every conceivable direction, knocking into one another, and screaming at nothing in particular. A basketball actually sailed passed her head just before she got to the doors. It missed her but barely. The kids seemed not to even notice they’d almost taken out a teacher. She ducked into her frustration as she shoved the door open. With everything in her, she never wanted to come back to this chaos they called youth group.
The question of if anyone outside of the sponsors even knew they were getting nothing religious out of the experience ran through her. But who was to know? The parents who dropped them off thinking everything was handled? Their priest, who, God bless his soul, was so old he could hardly keep up with the 80-year-olds in their congregation much less the teenagers? Charlie? No. This looked like impossible if ever she had seen impossible.
“Dear Holy Spirit,” she prayed as she walked down the five blocks back to the dorms, “these kids need You. They need to know You are real and alive. They need to have You in their lives, but right now, all they have is a bunch of people who want to make them happy. Give them a basketball and call it youth group. Give them cookies and call it Bible Study. But God, you and I both know, they don’t need more cookies and basketball, they need to hear about how You saved them, about how great life can really be when they find You. Why is that so hard for everyone to see?
“Why is it so clear to me and so out-there for everybody else? It’s like I’ve been invited to the party, but everyone else thinks I’m crazy for going. I don’t get it. I really don’t. There are times when You’re all I’ve got. There’ve been times when You were the only thing I had left, the only reason I didn’t completely give up. And they need that. They all do, but how do I give them that if they won’t listen? How do I get them to hear me when it’s so loud I can’t hear me?”
On the verge of turning around and telling them they could have the whole program for all she cared, Emily took a breath. It was the first one she had taken since she’d gotten to the gym three hours before. “God, what we really need is a miracle. Please, please, send someone who can have some control. I’m asking because right now, I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”
“So, are we on for Saturday night or what?” Eric asked as he and Jeremy sat at their usual table Tuesday afternoon waiting for the girls to show up.
“Oh, no can do, man. My dad’s coming into town.” In his gut he wished that Eric didn’t know enough to question the statement.
“Your dad? What’s up with that?”
The second before he had to answer, Rebecca saved him.
“Well, hello, my pretties!” Her sing-song approach destroyed the evil connotations of the line.
Like a jolt from a live wire, Jeremy’s heart thudded to life when he glanced up. The smile came automatically. “Hey, Em. How’s it going?”
“It’s going,” she said, none-too-pleased. She stacked her books on the table and didn’t so much as wait for Rebecca before she headed off to the counter.
Worry crept over Jeremy as he watched her walk off, but the others seemed not to notice.
“I’ll be back,” Rebecca said as she let her hand slide slowly across Eric’s back. “Try not to miss me too much.”
It was sickening, but then again, he had been just as sickening with Gwen. He shoved that name away from him. When the girls were gone, Eric looked at him. “So, what’s up with the dad thing?”
“Oh, he’s got tickets for some sold-out concert. Some guy who plays piano. They saw him when they were in California. He’ll be in Boston on Saturday.”
Concerned disbelief drifted through Eric’s features. “They’re coming all the way to Boston to see this guy play?”
Jeremy shrugged wishing they could change the subject to anything else. “Amber’s just dying to see him again.”
“Oh, Amber.” Eric drew out the name knowingly.
“Yeah. I’m so excited. Joy for absolute joy.” Jeremy picked up a French fry but flipped it back onto the plate. He wasn’t hungry, and the way he felt, he would never be hungry again.
“So, did you miss us?” Rebecca asked, breaking into the conversation.
“Of course,” Eric said. “We always miss you. Don’t we, Jeremy?”
“Always.” The smile was fake, but he hoped it was real enough to make them believe it.
Emily stood next to him removing items from her tray. When her glass tottered on the trip down, Jeremy took the drink from her and set it down so she could get the tray out of the way. She took the tray over to the next table as his attention followed taking in the curve of her faded denim jeans. The belt she wore seemed to dangle in fifteen directions at once. It was just pieces of leather strung together with tan beads that clicked when she moved. When she sat down beside him, she brushed her fingers through her long, black hair, and glanced over at him with a smile. Then as if she hadn’t just stolen his heart, she took a chip off the plate and bit into it.
“Okay, I never got to ask,” Rebecca said, sitting down next to Eric, “how was youth group Sunday night?”
Jeremy’s gaze swung to her once again, and he saw the frustration even as she put her hand in front of her mouth to finish chewing.
“I’m thinking about quitting,” she finally said so quietly he barely heard her.
“Quitting? You’re kidding.” Rebecca shook her head. “You can’t quit.”
Emily shrugged, her turquoise shirt moving right with her shoulders. “I’m not doing any good with them anyway. They don’t even know I’m there.”
At that moment Jeremy’s cell phone beeped on his hip. It really could’ve picked a better time, he thought as he pulled it out. Dread snapped over him as he saw the number. However, he could think of no good excuse not to answer it, so he flipped it on and turned away from the table slightly. “Hello?”
“Jeremy!” his dad sounded so happy about that. “Listen, bud, we’re not going to make it this weekend.”
“What?” Jeremy bent his head over the cell phone and put his finger in his other ear to drown out the noise he was swimming in.
“I said, Amber came down with a stomach bug, and we’re not going to make it.”
“Ah, Dad. That’s too bad.” The middle of Jeremy released with such a snap that it was hard to make his voice sound unhappy.
“But, hey, the tickets are paid for,” his dad continued, and it was clear he was hurrying through this conversation.
Jeremy glanced over at his friends whom he realized were no longer talking. “Oh, I don’t…”
“Why don’t you take your girlfriend? You know that one you were telling me about at Christmas? Listen, I don’t really have a lot of time here. I’ll call you later, and I’ll FedEx the tickets to you.”
“Oh, you don’t have to…”
“Gotta go, bud. Take care, and nail that four point for me, okay?”
Hurt smashed through the anger. “Yeah, Dad. Sure. Okay. Whatever. I’ll see ya.” And then he was gone. Jeremy had to collect himself for a moment before he could click off the phone and rejoin those sitting at the table with him. He tried to get himself to look directly at the two gazes drilling through him from the other side of the table, but it didn’t work. “My dad.”
“He bailed again?” Eric asked.
“Yeah, something like that.” Jeremy shrugged. “Oh, well. It’s probably better this way.” It was absurd to feel so hurt over something he didn’t want to happen in the first place. “So, Em, are you really quitting?”
The change in subject happened so suddenly that Emily missed her cue. She looked at him with concern and found only his soft, hurt brown eyes gazing back at her. That slipped whatever gears she had left. “Oh,… ye… yeah. Maybe.” She had to pull her gaze from his to get anything meaningful through her head. “Um, I’m thinking about it. I just wish there was a way to have it be like our Bible Study. You know, sit around and talk and really share about what the Holy Spirit is doing for us.”
Not really understanding why, she felt Jeremy’s gaze fall from her face, and she wanted with everything in her to get it back. She glanced over at him, and her heart lost all the netting beneath it. There was no missing the sadness, the hurt, and the desperation on that face. She wanted to reach out to him, to take him in her arms and tell him it was all right. She wanted to tell him about the Father he had in heaven, the One who was there no matter what. She wanted to, yet she couldn’t bring herself to say the words—whether because of the two people watching, or the crowd around them, or for some other reason she couldn’t clearly understand. Nonetheless, she kept her compassion to herself. “I don’t know. I just get so discouraged sometimes with them.”
“Hang in there,” Eric said obviously trying to salvage something from this wreck of a lunch. “It’s bound to get better.”
However, with one glance at Jeremy, Emily didn’t know how better would ever happen for either one of them.
“They’re free,” Jeremy said temptingly on Thursday as they again sat, eating and waiting for the girls. “A romantic night out with Rebecca courtesy of my dad’s company. Come on, Eric. What could be better than that?”
“A piano concert?” Eric wrinkled his nose. “That’s not really our style… even if it is free.” He bit into a chip. “Hey, why don’t you take Emily?”
“Emily?” Jeremy nearly toppled backward away from the suggestion. “Why would I take Emily?”
“Well, because she’s a girl and she’s kind of easy on the eyes, and let’s face it, you could do a lot worse.”
Had he been honest, Jeremy would’ve known the defensiveness in him came because he’d been toying with the very same idea for nearly two days. However, for his reputation’s sake he couldn’t let on to Eric that Emily was any more than some girl he happened to eat lunch with because their friends were going together. Besides, Emily was all into the God stuff, faith, and the Holy Spirit. What was that anyway? Who in their right mind goes around talking about the Holy Spirit like she did? Nobody he knew, and more to the point, nobody he wanted to spend more than a few minutes here and there with.
“It’s a great day in the neighborhood, mate,” Rebecca said, walking up and running her hand over Eric’s shoulder.
Before Jeremy thought better of it, he glanced up next to him, and his heart slammed to a stop. With her ebony hair pulled up high at the back of her head, Emily’s sweet, shy face was in full view, and it was more beautiful than he remembered. “Hey, Em.”
“Hey.” She wrenched her shoulder up to her ear and pressed her lips together in a semi-smile. “Becca, you coming?”
“Yeah. Right behind you.” They walked off.
Eric leaned across the table. “Was that sparks I saw?”
“Ha. Ha.” Jeremy let his face drop into derision. Then he wound the disdain into disinterest. “She wouldn’t want to go with me anyway.”
“How are you going to know if you never ask her?”
Wishing he could explain it without Eric either taking offense or ribbing him from now ‘til New Years, Jeremy shook his head. “Eric, there’s nothing there. Trust me.”
“Yeah, but there could be.” Eric gave him a look of wide open encouragement. Then his gaze snapped behind Jeremy. “Here they come.”
The two of them set out their lunches. Although he wanted at all costs to throw Eric off the scent, Jeremy couldn’t help but look at her, and when he did, he couldn’t help but feel the attraction. If she just wasn’t so beautiful, if she just didn’t make his heart want to get a little closer to her, if she was just like all the other girls he’d dated in his first two years here—vacuous, with no real thoughts of their own, then it would’ve been easy. As it was, she made his head spin every time he was within ten feet of her.
Without need of his input, the three of them talked a little about their Bible Study the night before, which seemed from their accounts to be going well. He watched intently as Emily recounted the discussion and related it to her kids at the youth group. It was stupid, but what he really wanted to be able to do was to add something interesting to the conversation. Yet he knew nothing about this topic. Worse, he didn’t want to know anything about this topic.
By the end of the meal, he was seriously questioning his own sanity. As they vacated the table, Eric took the opportunity to grab Jeremy’s jacket. Eric nodded at Emily who thankfully was so busy with her own belongings that she didn’t notice. Jeremy tried to protest without saying anything, but Eric clearly wouldn’t take no for an answer. Then as if he could get no more obvious, Eric held Rebecca back so Jeremy could walk with Emily alone as if there was no audience, which of course there was.
“Umm, Em.” He cleared his throat as they made their way over to the door. She glanced at him, but only that. “Listen, I was wondering.” Man, if there was a way out of this, he would’ve taken it. He pushed the door open and held it for her. “I know it’s short notice and everything, but well, my dad’s company has these tickets for this piano deal Saturday night.”
She never said anything as they descended the steps. In fact, she seemed barely aware that he was there.
“I know. It’s probably going to be lame, and if you don’t want to go, I understand.” Jeremy blinked into the onslaught of the bright sunshine. He felt like an idiot. Why on earth did he let Eric make him think this was a good idea? He should’ve just left well enough alone with her.
“I’m… okay,” she finally said although her gaze never left the concrete, and he wasn’t sure he’d heard right.
Pensive joy burst through him. He leaned down closer to her. “O…kay?”
Her gaze traveled up to his, and in her eyes, there was unspeakable uncertainty, but she smiled just enough that he knew he had heard correctly.
His smile lit through him. “Cool.” Spinning, his thoughts streamed in a thousand directions. “Umm, I’ll pick you up about five then. The concert’s at 7:30, so that’ll give us time to go out for dinner first.”
She nodded although her gaze had retaken to the sidewalk at their feet.
“Great. Then I’ll see you about five on Saturday. You want me to call you when I get there, or just meet you in the lobby or what?”
Her shoulders drew her books closer to her. “The lobby’s fine.”
However, happiness wouldn’t let him look away. It wasn’t until he remembered their audience that he forced himself to step away from her. “Then I’ll see you Saturday about five.”
She nodded again, and he turned to rejoin Eric.
“She said, ‘Yes’?” Eric asked when Rebecca was out of earshot. Jeremy nodded as happiness danced through him. Eric smiled. “I told you so.”
“What did Jeremy want?” Rebecca asked as she glanced over her shoulder to the retreating backs of the guys.
Emily hugged her books closer. “He asked me out.”
“He…? You’re kidding.” Rebecca’s eyes widened with excited surprise. “Really? Like on a real date?”
“I guess.” She was still trying to process what had just happened, and the farther she walked, the less sure she got. “It’s dinner and a concert, I think.”
“Dinner and a concert? Oh, yes. That is definitely a real date!” Hopping twice in front of her, Rebecca let out a squeal. “Ah, yeah! I told you so!”
Copyright Staci Stallings, 2006