Monday, December 15, 2014

Chapter 19, part 2: Shifting Relationships

I pulled up to the house after another successful sales appointment. The blue VW bug parked in front of the house let me know Kirsten must be back from her camping trip with her boyfriend Charlie and their friends.
Another car I didn’t recognize was also in the driveway. In the living room, Charlie and Kirsten sat on the love seat while my parents and Charlie’s sat across from them like an interview panel.
“Hi, Giselle,” said Charllie’s mom Mrs. Neal as I walked in. “We got our knives yesterday. I’m so glad we paid the extra for the rush shipping. We absolutely love them!”
“Didn’t I tell you? Just let me know when you want to go ahead and get the rest of the pieces in the set.”
Kirsten glared at me. “Gigi, can’t you see we’re in the middle of something? Get lost!”
“Kirsten, don’t talk to you sister like that. I’d actually like you to join us, Giselle,” Mom said. “This involves our whole family. You should hear it too.”
“Hear what?”
“Charlie and I are going to get married!” Kirsten boasted. Charlie squeezed her hand and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.
The adults shifted in their seats and gave each other significant looks. I now understood why Kirsten had snapped before. Both sets of parents were undoubtedly leaving no holds barred to talk some sense into the starry-eyed couple.
“Congratulations,” I said as I pulled up a chair.
“Thank you, Giselle, but that might be a little premature,” said Mrs. Neal.
“Millie, Frank, don’t get us wrong,” Mrs. Neal continued. “You know we love Kirsten. We’d be happy to have her as a daughter-in-law – one day.”
Mom nodded. “Of course. And we feel the same about Charlie.”
“Kids,” Mr. Neal said as he leaned forward in his chair, “We hope you understand where we’re coming from. We support the idea of you getting married – eventually. I think we can all see that God has made you for each other.”
Everyone murmured agreement. Kirsten and Charlie had dated all through high school. I too thought it a foregone conclusion that Charlie would be my brother-in-law – someday. I just never expected them to rush into an engagement so soon. They were just kids! Heck, Kirsten still used cutesy animal paper for her stationery.
“Frank and I were talking,” Mr. Neal continued, “and we decided to hold this meeting, not to convince you to break the engagement, but to speak into your lives some of the wisdom we’ve learned from our marriages and to make some very strong suggestions about the timing of the blessed event.”
“What your father’s trying to say, Charlie, is that we want you to wait to get married until at least your junior year of college.” Mrs. Neal added.
“Or even better, wait until you both graduate,” said Daddy. He cocked an eyebrow. “In fact, I’m willing to offer a little incentive.”
“What incentive?” Charlie said.
"I’ll explain. I’m willing to put ten grand toward your wedding. If you wait until you’re both at least seniors in college, I’ll let you keep whatever money you don’t spend on the ceremony and reception as a wedding present.”
“I like the way you think, Frank,” said Mr. Neal. “I’m willing to add five grand to that deal.”
“Sold!” Charlie shouted, and everyone laughed. He continued, “Thanks – Mom, Pop, Mr. and Mrs. Gottlieb. I get where you’re coming from. We don’t want to rush into anything. I’ve already been thinking that I’d really like to be out of school and in a job before we tie the knot.”
Kirsten furrowed her brow but didn’t say anything. Did she have a reason to want to rush into a wedding? I quickly put the idea out of my head. I rarely saw them hold hands. The peck on the cheek may have been the first kiss I’d seen between them.
“Wise thinking, Charlie. I’ll be proud to have you as a son-in-law one day,” said Daddy. “Kirsten and Giselle both know how much their mother and I value education. Every member of our family for the past three generations has put themselves through college, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
***
After the Neals said their goodbyes, I retreated to my room, ostensibly to make some appointment-setting calls. The external activity would be a welcome distraction from the confusing swirl of emotion sparked by Kirsten’s news.
Something about it didn’t sit right with me, and it wasn’t even that they were too young. For some reason I had never pictured them getting married. Charlie was more like Kirsten’s best friend than a boyfriend. But maybe that was a good thing?
Maybe my misgivings were really just some sort of jealousy talking. I tried and failed to imagine being in Kirsten’s shoes, so certain of her path in life and the partner she’d chosen to travel it with. By contrast, the length of all my romantic relationships could be measured in months, and from the way I’d been feeling recently, the fling with Brad would end up as no exception. Was there something wrong with me?
Maybe I just wasn’t meant for love. It seemed I did have a knack for sales though. Maybe in five years, when Kirsten was at home barefoot and pregnant, I’d be out there raking in the big bucks with Velocity or some other company.
Finding fresh motivation in the thought, I got on the phone for real and didn’t stop dialing until I had booked five appointments. In my focus, I ignored a series of texts from Brad. That was nothing new though. He had been texting me all week, but I hadn’t responded much since I was so busy with making my presentations.
I felt shallow to admit it even to myself, but without his bright smile and rippling muscles right there to dazzle, it was more obvious how little we had in common. I had trouble wading through the bad grammar and worse spelling of his messages. I somehow forgot to write back five times out of ten. The times when I did write, I couldn’t find much to say.
As the summer went on and the departure date for Germany approached, I began to pray for a pleasant trip and renewed feelings for Brad. After all, the only reason I was a CSF leader was because of my relationship with him. He had even told Ian that being with me had started him thinking about God more. How was I supposed to help win the Greeks for Christ if we broke up?
***

Then, during an online chat session the day before I left for Germany, Ian asked me to prayerfully consider what I could do to be a good witness to my fellow travelers.
“As leaders in CSF,” he typed, “we have a greater responsibility to be good examples. You thought people were watching us before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. God is going to be moving on campus this year. We need to purify ourselves so we are fully ready to work alongside him.”
Ian’s talk about “God moving” and “purity” made me uncomfortable. I was nervous enough about being a leader, and it felt like just one more standard I was sure to fail to meet.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” I typed back.
“You and Brad are going on this trip together, right? You need to be very careful to avoid even the hint of anything inappropriate, or tongues will wag.”
Though I’d been cooling toward Brad over the summer, my prayers for renewed feelings seemed to be answered the closer we got to the day of the trip. I was very much looking forward to renewing at least part of our physical relationship. But what did Ian mean by inappropriate? Could we hold hands? Kiss? Obviously spending the night in his hotel room was out, but did that mean I couldn’t spend any time alone with him?
I remembered how quickly things escalated that day in his dorm room. A jolt shot through me at the memory of Brad’s hand on my stomach, cupping my bra. It was only by avoiding time alone with him that I’d stopped things from going further last semester, and now I was sure to have many opportunities to be alone with him and not many reasons to get away.

How was I ever going to live up to Ian’s standard?