When Spring Break ended, I returned to campus as scheduled. The first day back was hard. I had trouble paying attention, missing Oma.
Then at the end of German Literature class, Dr. Eberhardt said something that cut through my anxiety. “Class, before I let you go, I have a special announcement. A last minute opportunity has opened up. The college has agreed to let me add a summer course abroad to the course catalog for this department. I can take a minimum of five and a maximum of eight students on a three week tour in South-Central Europe. I’m still working out the details of the itinerary, but preliminary plans call for stops in Munich, Vienna and Prague …”
I just had to go on this trip! I had always wanted to see Austria, the birthplace of my Oma. Since Oma’s death, the longing had become a more specific goal. I already had money saved from graduation cards and the summer job with Pastor Jim, and just that morning I had lined up a job proofreading for the campus paper to make even more extra money. My last bank statement registered eight hundred dollars. It still wasn’t enough, but it was a start.
As the class filed out of the room, I ran straight to Dr. Eberhardt’s desk.
“Interested in the trip, Miss Gottlieb?”
“Definitely. When are you planning to go?”
“Probably the last weeks of July or the first weeks of August.”
“And how much will it cost?”
“That hasn’t been determined quite yet.”
“Can you give me a ballpark? I want to talk to my parents about it tonight and money is going to be the first thing they ask about.”
“Plan on spending about up to three thousand between the cost of airfare, souvenirs, entrance fees, lodging, food and so forth. If you plan to go, you’ll need to put half the money down as a deposit to secure your place.”
I hoped that Dr. Eberhardt didn’t see me flinch at the price tag. The balance on my savings account suddenly looked paltry. I wasn’t even halfway there. Where would the rest of the money come from? Even though I’d mentioned parents, chances were they’d be unwilling to foot the bill. Heck, they weren’t even paying for regular tuition – why would they spring for something extra like this?
Before heading back to the room I shared with Lacey, I picked up the mail from the student center. The scruffy clerk handed over a bulky package with a Citrus Valley, CA address.
I stopped at a table to open it. Inside were two books, one an inspirational romance novel and the other a cozy mystery. Nestled alongside the books was a box of six See’s Candy chocolate truffles and a handmade card from Mom. The card’s rubber stamped message read “Thinking of you” and on the inside Mom had written, "Oma would be so proud of you. P.S. Hope you like the novels. I’m not familiar with the authors, but the clerk at the bookstore recommended them.”
Folded inside the card was a sheet of brightly colored paper decorated with cute Japanese animal characters. “Hi, Gigi,” the note read in Kirsten’s neat rounded handwriting. “I haven’t told Mom and Daddy yet, but I sent in my decision letter to Elk River today. I’m so ready for high school to be over so I can get out of this house! I know you understand.”
Ruth sent a hand-drawn picture. I chuckled at how my kid sister managed to make the Elk River College mascot look more ready to pose for a toothpaste ad than to rip the opposing team to shreds.
I was going to Austria this summer, I had no homework to speak of, and this afternoon I had two good books to read. My world couldn’t get more perfect.
Not seeing anyone around, I did a little hop-skip, closed my eyes and began to twirl. Being on a hill, I lost my balance and stumbled.
Stumbled right into the broad muscled chest of a boy -- no, a man, definitely a man -- wearing a Kappa Sig t-shirt.
“Watch it!” a bass voice said.
“Excuse me,” I stammered as I looked up from the taut fabric of the t-shirt to a set of teasing chocolate brown eyes.
I knew instantly who those eyes belonged to. Brad Talbert, Elk River’s star baseball player.
Out of all the people to crash into during an embarrassing moment of girlish frivolity, Murphy’s Law dictated that it had to be someone like him. I’d never met him, but everyone knew who he was. The freshman girls of Warner all agreed he was the most beautiful man on campus.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what got into me.” I wanted to sink into the ground and disappear. Had he noticed me twirling? Maybe I could play it off.
“I was just …”
“No problem. You’ve got spring fever, right?” He winked at me. “Everyone feels like dancing when the weather warms up.”
So he HAD noticed. Great.
“Spring fever, right. Achoo! Watch out or you might catch it!” I did another awkward little twirl and hurried off.
I was shaking all over by the time I reached my room. What an idiot I was. Oh well, at least I had the books Mom sent to take my mind off it.
I usually devoured the books Mom sent in a few hours. Today, maybe I’d treat myself by reading a little more slowly while finishing off the box of chocolates. I sighed dreamily, looking forward to the part of the book where the hero inevitably swept the heroine into his strong arms and declared his undying love for her. I got tingles down my spine just thinking of it. The mystery looked interesting too – perhaps I’d read that first and save the romance novel for dessert.
Before I dove into the books, I called Mom and told her about the trip to Europe. “What do you think? Will Daddy help me pay for the trip?”
“You’ll have to ask him yourself when he gets back. He’s out of town at the annual award banquet. But don’t be surprised if the answer is no. You know how he feels about you girls paying your own way.”