Monday, December 15, 2014

Chapter 22, part 1: Road Trip

When I got back from Europe, among the junk email in my inbox was a message from Ian. “We had an impromptu CSF leaders’ retreat while you were gone. Hope you don’t mind, but I signed us up to run the first Soulfire of the year –that’s what we renamed our weekly meetings. Isn’t it cool? I want it to be a gospel presentation. Talking about Jesus is my passion, and with all your stage experience, I know you’ll do great.”

As much as I loved being on stage, I dreaded public speaking. It was different without the spotlight between me and the audience. The few times I'd had to do it in high school, adrenaline got the best of me and I ended up trembling so hard that even my voice shook.  What was I going to do?

Mom and Daddy drove Kirsten and I across country to Elk River soon after, leaving Ruthie with Aunt Martha.

“We just entered New Mexico, ladies,” Daddy announced the second morning of the trip.

“Ugh,” said Mom. “I always hate this part of the drive. Nothing to see.” She turned as much as the seat belt would allow her and touched my knee. “Gigi--I mean, Giselle--why don’t you keep us entertained? Tell us more about your trip. You’ve been home almost two days and yet we’ve hardly heard anything about it. Didn’t you have a good time?”
“I did have a good time. I was just waiting for the right moment to tell you about it, I guess. Besides, it was kind of hard to come up with entertaining anecdotes while zonked out by jet lag. And then when I was awake, we were all so busy packing and loading Kirsten’s endless suitcases—”
“Don’t exaggerate Giselle,” Kirsten protested. “Anyway, I don’t believe in traveling light. Is it my fault I got all the fashion sense in the family?”
“Now, Kirsten, be kind,” Mom scolded. “Giselle may not be a clotheshorse like you, but she always looks reasonably well put together.”
I rolled my eyes. “Gee, thanks for the rave review, Mom.”
Kirsten giggled. “I wasn’t necessarily talking about Giselle – although, no offense sis, you could stand to watch a few episodes of What Not to Wear. But even Giselle knows better than to go out in public in corduroy slippers – Daddy. And Mom, the eighties called, and they want their big hair back.”
Mom clutched her silvery waves in mock horror. “Very funny, Kirsten. But what’s this program you’re referring to?”
“Oh, you know, it’s on cable. I watch it sometimes when I’m over at Heidi’s.”
Mom’s voice flattened, all joking gone. “You know I don’t like you girls watching the smut on cable.”
“Mo-o-o-o-m, for your information, not everything on cable is smut,” Kirsten protested.
It was too late. Mom had already launched into her oft-repeated rants on modesty and the decaying morals of today’s youth, and there would be no stopping her until she reached the end of it.
I didn’t mind — I still needed to process what had happened in Germany before I wanted to talk too much about it. The more time I had to carefully consider how to describe each moment of the trip without pinging Mom’s vice police radar, the better. Even the slightest allusion to the misunderstood accusations of sexual misconduct, the episodes of public drunkenness and especially the questions and doubts about my faith would inevitably lead to a flurry of questions worse than the Spanish Inquisition.
Daddy caught my eye in the rear-view mirror. “Millie, as relevant as your comments always are, I think Giselle was about to tell us about her trip. I for one am very interested to hear all about it. Did you get your money’s worth?” I winced at the implied condemnation – in the months leading up to my departure he made it abundantly clear he considered the entire trip a foolish waste of money, the pinnacle of bad stewardship.
I cleared my throat to buy precious seconds of more time. The topic was now unavoidable, and faced with Daddy’s challenge, I couldn’t afford to make it sound anything less than spectacular.
“Giselle, it sounds like you had an absolutely wonderful time,” Mom said when the censored and slightly embellished tale was finished. “I’m so proud of you for using that time away to reflect and grow closer to God. Frank, maybe now you’ll listen to me when I tell you we should visit Europe. I’ve always wanted to go, and our twenty-fifth anniversary is coming up next summer.”

I heaved a sigh of relief. Mom’s campaign to get Daddy across the Atlantic was one she wouldn’t easily drop once she got hold of it. I was off the hook. My parents would never have to know the truth. Hopefully the other CSF leaders wouldn’t either.