Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chapter 6, part 2: End of School

I called Alicia with the news as soon as I got home. “Bummer,” she said. “But at least I’ll have you back as my break and lunch buddy for the last few weeks of school.” 

“Yeah, I kind of disappeared on you, didn’t I? Sorry about that.”
“No problem, I totally would have done the same thing if Chet went to this school. The tragedy of dating an older man, I’m telling you.”

The following Monday, I was surprised to see a girl in Quan’s seat. He looked up from the back of the room and caught my eye. He shrugged as if to apologize. I nodded slightly, confused. When he told me we couldn’t see each other I never expected him to cut off all contact like this. Why couldn’t we stay lab partners? It felt so strange to go from spending almost every possible moment of the school day with him to having to practically avoid each other. 
Thankfully, getting ready for the performance of Grease that weekend helped me put Quan out of mind. And Alicia, faithful friend, made sure the rest of my free time was spent in cheerful company.

My drama teacher had said he was casting me against type when he gave me the part of Rizzo. “It will be a challenge, and I’d like to see you stretch yourself. Don’t worry, we’re doing the school version, which skips the whole pregnancy plotline and other racy scenes from the movie.”

“I’ve never seen it,” I’d confided. Although my whole family loved musicals, my parents only let us see ones they deemed family-friendly.

“Even better. You have a blank slate to create your own version of the character without mimicking Stockard Channing.”

Playing a sarcastic, tough party girl ended up not being as much of a challenge as I thought. “Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee,” I sang with gusto. Ironic considering that if Rizzo met the real me, she’d mock me as mercilessly as she did Sandy.

Even in the G-rated version, it was pretty clear that Rizzo was way more experienced with boys than I was. I sometimes caught myself imagining what Rizzo and Kenickie might have been doing in those racy scenes from the movie.  Somehow I eked out enough willpower to stop the fantasy each time. I hoped Jolene would be proud of me for keeping my vow so well.

The play’s three night run was a huge success. Before we broke up, Quan had promised to attend every show. Each night I scanned the audience, looking for him. It was hard to see in the darkened theater against the glare of the spotlight, but I was pretty sure he didn’t make it. 
***

The last few weeks of high school flew by in a blur of tests and classes and friends and assemblies. Finally the week of graduation arrived, and with it a trip to Disneyland. My family had passes and we went all the time but it was still a treat to go with my fellow students. Mid-morning, Alicia and I took a break from the rides and relaxed on a low brick wall near the Haunted Mansion.

Molly Green, senior class president, plopped down next to us with a big friendly smile. “Hi! How are you two? Isn’t this a blast?” 

Senior Week, or maybe just Disney must have out the best in people I guess, because Molly didn’t normally give us the time of day. 

Molly continued, “Mind if I sit with you while I wait for my friends to come out of the Haunted Mansion? It gives me the creeps.” She took off the light jacket she had worn to ward off the chill of the morning overcast that locals liked to call May Gray. “So glad it burned off and didn’t rain today like they said it would!” she exclaimed, then sighed. “I’m going to miss coming here all the time when I’m up at Stanford.” 

Of the 450 students in the graduating class, fewer than one out of ten planned to leave Southern California, and even those few weren’t venturing much farther than the Bay Area. 

“Stanford, that’s really great,” Alicia said. “I’m sticking with community college for now. I couldn’t even imagine living so far from home. Won’t you get homesick?” She pointed at me. “Then there’s this one, going off to the snows of Ohio. I think I’d rather die!” 

“Why are you going to Ohio, Giselle?” Molly queried. I thought I detected vague disgust in her voice.

While had been feeling ever-so-slightly superior to Alicia and her fear of leaving home, suddenly I felt the need to apologize for my choice.

“Um, well…” I stumbled over an explanation about Oma paying my way, finishing up with, “She went Elk River, my uncles went there … I guess you could say it’s a family tradition,” hoping that the Molly would read between the lines and guess that I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.

“Oh, Elk River! That’s a Christian school, right? Good for you!” Molly responded with unexpected enthusiasm. 

That’s when I remembered that Molly was not only class president but also president of the Christian club on campus.

“Yeah, I guess you could say I felt led to go there,” I said, dropping a Christian catchphrase to establish my faith credentials with Molly. 

“Wow! That’s amazing. I wish I were so in touch with God’s will. I wish I had gotten to know you better, Giselle. Well, there’s my group, so I’ve gotta go. I’ll be praying for you!” She waved and walked away. 

It felt good to be on a pedestal, even though deep down I worried it couldn’t be further from the truth. I had based my decision on the flip of a coin and called it the voice of God. Maybe Elk River wasn’t God’s will for me at all. Had I really made the right decision?

***

Grey clouds greeted me the morning of graduation, but that wasn’t at all unusual for a Southern California May. Usually it cleared by noon or so, and the ceremony was scheduled to be held in the school’s outdoor amphitheater at 3:00. It was the only facility on campus large enough to hold all the students and their families.

The phone rang and Mom brought it to me. “It’s Alicia,” she said.

“We’re going to graduate today!” she sang out. “Ready?” 

“Am I ever,” I said. “But I wish we could skip the ceremony and go directly to the Grad Night party. We’re going to melt out there in our oh-so-attractive polyester gowns.” At least ours were white. The guys would be even hotter wearing orange fabric.

“More like get soaked. Haven’t you seen the weather report?”
“Chance of rain. That doesn’t mean much. They’ve been saying that all week.”
But true to the forecast, the clouds darkened as the day went on. At noon, it began to sprinkle. By the time I left the house at two thirty, it had stopped.

“Here, take this umbrella just in case,” Mom urged as I headed out the door.

I felt stupid clutching the folded umbrella as we lined up alphabetically, preparing to march into the amphitheater. But just as we began our procession, the sprinkles returned. By the time we were all seated, it strengthened to a heavy downpour. Only a few students had an umbrella, a few more wore ponchos. Most of my classmates tried in vain to improvise some sort of protection from the deluge out of graduation programs and caps. 

We were quite a sight as we made our way across the stage one by one to accept the congratulations of the principal and a diploma holder. The girls were just soggy, but the orange dye from the guys’ gowns bled onto their white shirt collars.

After the ceremony, we reported to the gym to pick up our actual diplomas, then joined our families to celebrate. A few hours later, we returned to the gym and loaded onto buses that took us directly to the secret location of the official school Grad Night party.

The secret location turned out to be the same German-American club where prom had been held. Inside, the parent volunteers had set up a full casino’s worth of table games, and we were each given a stack of chips to bet. Outside there were supposed to have been carnival rides, but the continuing rain prevented their safe operation. Some of the outdoor booths of crafts and games had been hastily recreated indoors.

Thankfully, there was other entertainment to get us through the night. A hypnotist, a comedian and a magician all wowed us with their acts while waiters served midnight snacks. 
As dawn approached, we started passing yearbooks to gather signatures. Then we went outside to wait for the buses to come take us back to school. Some, including Alicia, sat down against the wall of the building and fell asleep. I passed the time reading through the notes in my yearbook. Most people signed mine with generic things like, “Stay sweet!” At least Alicia had filled a whole page with inside jokes and her favorite shared memories. 
I looked up from reading her mini-novel to see Quan. 

“Would you sign my yearbook, Giselle?” he asked.

I silently handed mine over and took his. What should I write?

It was great while it lasted? I wish we could still be friends? Tell the next girl you date that she has me to thank for teaching you how to kiss?

I settled for, “You were a great lab partner and better friend. Best of luck in the future.”
We exchanged yearbooks again just as the buses pulled up. “Well, I guess this is it. Goodbye, Giselle.”

“Goodbye.” What else was there to say?
I flipped through the pages again until I found what he wrote.
“Beautiful Giselle, I will never forget our extra-special relationship. I still say you will have to beat the boys off with a stick in college. I will remember you always in my prayers. Love, Quan.”
Suddenly I felt as beautiful as I had on prom night. Maybe in college I’d look like that all the time. Maybe I’d meet the love of my life in Ohio. Maybe that’s why God was leading me there. I could hardly wait to find out!

Chapter 6, part 1: What about Quan?

Sunlight streamed through the French doors in the breakfast nook the next morning.  Mom handed me a glass of orange juice and sat down across the table.  “Have you thought about what you’re going to tell Quan?”

“I guess I’ll tell him in class today. Or maybe I’ll wait until tonight.  He’s supposed to pick me up at 6:30.  We’re going miniature golfing.”  I blew on a spoonful of hot oatmeal to cool it off.

“Yes, dear, but what are you going to tell him, about the future of your relationship?”

“Why do I have to tell him anything?”

“Giselle, you have to think this through.  Do you really want to go off to college and be tied down to a long distance relationship?  I think you’d get more out of your experience if you were single and free to get to know all the young people on campus.”

“But I’m not leaving until August, and Quan and I have only been going out a few weeks.”

“All the more reason to end things now.  It’ll be easier on both of you this way, don’t you see?  Although it’s obvious the poor boy is already head over heels for you, and why shouldn’t he be?  You’re a wonderful young woman, so lovely and bright.  Any man would be lucky—”

“Okay, okay, Mom, I get the point.  I’ll think about it, but I’m not going to break up with him tonight.”

“I trust you to make the wise decision.”  That was code for I’ll be disappointed if you don’t take my advice.

Kirsten came stumbling out of her room.  “I overslept!” she yelled from the landing of the stairs “Giselle, don’t leave without me okay?  I promise, I won’t make you late.  I’m just going to take a quick shower and then I’ll throw on some clothes and be out the door.  Mom, can you make me some Instant Breakfast?”

“Why bother showering? You’ll still look like a homeless person the way you dress,” Mom snarked. 

***


After my third honk, Kirsten ran out the front door, an empty bookbag slung over one shoulder, Algebra book tucked under one arm and a travel mug in her opposite hand. I slid out of the driver’s seat and jogged around to open the passenger door for her, then took the mug while she climbed in.

“Thanks for waiting.”

I held out the mug. “Sure.”  In truth, I was annoyed but there was no point in complaining to Kirsten. I knew from experience that she would get defensive, and either turn on the waterworks or lash out at me. Not my idea of a great way to start the morning.

While I navigated the streets of our neighborhood to Grand Avenue, I took a few deep breaths and redirected my aggravation. “So Mom thinks I should tell Quan about my decision tonight. Can you believe it—just before you came in, Mom had the nerve to tell me to break up with him.”

“You know he’s not going to be happy when he hears the news. He’s in lurve with you.”

I sighed as we turned left and headed north. If I could hit all the lights just right, there was a chance we might not be late for school. “Yeah. He’s already assumed I’ll be going to UCLA with him.”

“Oh my gosh, how romantic!  He’s probably hoping you’ll stay together all through college, so when you graduate you can get married and have lots of babies!”

I let out a puff of air. “You been listening to Mom too long or something?    Last night she had me marrying some random guy in Ohio and now you’ve built this whole crazy story about Quan.”

“Relax, I was just giving you a hard time. But seriously, does he even know you applied to Elk River College?”

“It hasn’t really come up. So?”

She whistled low. “Man, I don’t know whether to be sorry for him or for you. There’s going to be some drama tonight!  You better tell me all about it when you get home from your date of doom.”  She let out a stage cackle.
At moments like these, I truly wished I were an only child.  


***

When the doorbell rang at 6:29, I sat at the piano, playing the fastest and loudest songs in my repertoire, trying to release the pre-date jitters.  My heart jumped up into my throat.  He’s here! Should I get the door or have someone else let him in?  Should I tell him about Elk River College right away or wait until the end of our date?

Almost against my will, my feet carried me through the foyer to the double doors of our entry and my hand turned the knob to reveal Quan, standing with his hands behind his back.

“Hi, Giselle.  You look great as always.”  He leaned in for a kiss.  

I turned my cheek to him.  “Thanks, so do you.”

“Uh, this is for you.”  He held out a small neon pink teddy bear that had the words “Be Mine” embroidered on the belly.  It looked like something out of one of those claw machines.  

I took it and forced a smile.  “Thanks.”  

“Don’t you like it?”

“No, it’s not that.  It’s cute, and you’re sweet.  Sorry for not being more enthusiastic.”

He let it go, but I could tell he knew something was bothering me. As we drove down the freeway, I wondered for the hundredth time how I was going to tell him about choosing a college so far away.  How was he going to take it?  Kirsten was probably right, we’d break up over it and there would be a huge scene.  
By the time we reached the restaurant, I had almost talked myself back into not mentioning college at all.  I could just pretend like everything would stay the same all summer, and maybe he’d eventually break up with me.  Could I live a lie for three months?  The knot of anticipation and dread in my stomach tightened at the thought.  No, I had to tell him, no matter how he took it.  I’d just wait until he walked me up to the door after our date.  

When we finished the last hole on the golf course, Quan led me to a nearby bench. “Let’s sit here. We need to talk.”

"I have something to tell you too. You first.”

He grabbed my hand. Was he crying?

“I can’t see you any more.” His voice broke. He really was crying, or at least was on the verge of it.

And here I was worried about how to break up with him. “Why not?” 

“My parents. They don’t like me seeing a white girl, especially one who’s not Catholic. You probably think I should just blow them off, but that’s not really an option in my culture. I just had to see you one last time. It kills me to have to hurt you like this.”

It did sting a little, but there was no point in letting him see that. “It’s okay. I was going to tell you I’m not going to UCLA after all. I actually decided on a school in Ohio. The long distance thing would have been hard. I guess God has a different plan for us.”

Our parting was bittersweet. Especially the kiss. Mom was right, practice did make perfect. Quan ended up becoming a pretty good kisser after all.

Chapter 5, part 2: Family Input

Daddy and my two younger sisters were already at the table. As soon as I sat down, everyone folded their hands and we bowed our heads.

“Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and let thy gifts to us be blessed. Amen,” we said in sing-song unison. 

Mom stood back up and served us. 

“Daddy, can I get my nose pierced?” Kirsten asked. 

Daddy appeared not to hear the question, so Kirsten repeated it. 

“I heard you but didn’t answer because we’ve been over this too many times already. I’m not having my daughter look like that. If you want to mutilate your body when you’re 18, go ahead, but as long as you’re living under my roof—“

“Fine, whatever. It’ll be the longest year of my life, but I can be patient. At least, as long as I have my drivers’ license. Can you or Mom take me out tonight to practice?”

“Get your homework done first and we’ll see,” Mom said. She sighed, “Frank, doesn’t it make you feel old? Kirsten driving and Giselle starting college … you still set on going to Elk River, sweetie?” 

“Actually I was just looking over the options again.”

“I’m so relieved to hear that. I’ve been praying you’d change your mind about going so far away. I had visions of you ending up married to some Ohio boy. I’d never get to see my grandbabies.”

“Mom! You’re being ridiculous.”

"Don’t talk to your mother that way.” It was one of first sentences Daddy had spoken to me since the accident. Then again, he hadn’t been home much.

“Sorry. It’s just, I don’t even want to get married until after college, and you’re already pressuring me for grandchildren? And anyway, Elk River College is still in the running … along with UCLA.”

Mom got up to get Daddy a second helping. “UCLA works for me. God’s answering our prayers that you won’t go too far from home,” she called from the kitchen.

“Mom, you do know that I’m going to have to move out eventually.”

“Of course, of course, but you’ll always be my baby no matter how old you get. Is it wrong for a mother to want to be able to see her oldest daughter more than once or twice a semester. Of course it’s up to you, but doesn’t UCLA make the most sense?” Mom prompted.

I threw up my hands. “That’s where I’m stuck. I like UCLA but it feels too big for me. I’ve heard that it’s hard to get a spot in the dorms after freshman year, and apartments in that part of LA are expensive. Elk River is the right size, I loved it when I visited, and Oma was so happy at the thought of me going there. But it’s so far from home. I’m worried about missing out on everything back here.”
Ruth said, “You could always flip for it.”

“Give me a break, Ruthie.” I scoffed. “This isn’t as simple as what team kicks off first at one of your soccer matches. This is my life we’re talking about here. Why leave it up to chance?”

Mom started to ask me to apologize for my unkind words, but Kirsten cut her off. “Charlie says there’s no such thing as chance. He believes God is in control of every roll of the dice.”

I rolled my eyes. “And I thought Ruthie was stupid. You think God really cares if you land on Boardwalk and go bankrupt or if you pass go and collect $200?”
“Giselle, you know better than to talk like that,” Mom said. “That was unkind. Stupid is a word we do not allow in this house. Apologize to your sisters at once.”

“But Mom…

“Do as your mother says!” Daddy said in a low, steely voice. 
I ducked my head and complied with a suitably convincing plea for forgiveness. We finished the meal in silence.

***

After dinner, I went over to the piano to decompress before starting in on my homework.

Mom cleared the table and Daddy stood to help. At the kitchen sink, he embraced her from behind and kissed her neck. They murmured softly together for a while and then he retreated to their bedroom.


When Kirsten got our her homework, I stopped playing the piano and tried to look over the practice test for AP Calculus, but couldn’t concentrate. I had been doing well on the practice tests and didn’t have much motivation to go over it again. Kirsten was chatty and between listening to her anecdotes about who said what at school that day and helping her with her algebra problems when she got stuck, I had plenty to keep me busy.

Mom finished her kitchen chores and made a dramatic show of yawning.  
Kirsten looked up. “Mom, I’m almost done with my homework. Can we still go out driving?”

“Not tonight, I’m too worn out now. I think I’ll go to bed early. Don’t stay up too late, girls.”

Down the hall, the bedroom door clicked shut. Kirsten gave me a look and we rolled our eyes together.

Kirsten set down her pencil. “I’ve been thinking about your problem,” she said.

“You have, have you?  Do you know where I should go to college?”

“I have no clue.  I do know that I’d miss you either way, but that wasn’t my point.  It might sound weird, but Charlie is right in a way—about flipping for it, or God rolling the dice or whatever.  He says that all Christians could have more peace if we really believed in God’s sovereignty.”  

She sighed and got a dreamy look as we stood and headed for the family room, leaving our books and papers scattered across the table. “He’s so spiritual. He wants to be a pastor someday you know.”

I rolled my eyes behind her back. She was always going on about Charlie this and Charlie that. They’d been dating on and off since junior high. She couldn’t shut up about him. Couldn’t keep quiet, I automatically corrected myself. Like “stupid,” “shut up” was considered a bad word around here. Still, to hear her, you’d think Charlie was the second coming of Jesus, or at least one of His disciples.

At that moment something clicked. Out of nowhere I remembered the story of the disciples casting lots to pick the replacement for Judas. Maybe God did control every fall of the dice.

Kirsten went ahead of me and flopped onto a sofa. I stood in front of the TV with arms akimbo. 

“Get out of the way!” both my sisters said at once.

I didn’t budge. “Ruthie, Kirsten talked me into it.”

Kirsten sat up. “What did I talk you into?”

“I think we’ll leave where I go to college up to chance, otherwise known as God’s sovereignty. Who has a coin I can flip?”

At the very least, it could help me to see how it felt to be stuck with one choice over the other for a moment.

The coin landed on heads, Elk River’s assigned side.
Ohio. I was going to Ohio. It felt right. Maybe it was what I really wanted, or maybe it was God guiding me. Did it really matter?

“I’m going to Elk River!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. 
Mom and Daddy came out in their pajamas to see what the commotion was all about.

“Congratulations, sweetie,”  Mom said when I told her the news.
She pulled me into a hug, trying to hide her tears. “My little girl’s about to leave the nest. I’m so proud of you for being brave enough to listen for God’s voice instead of my fears. I’d be terrified of going so far away from home and leaving all my friends and family behind, but not you. You’ve always been my adventurous one.”            

Chapter 5, part 1: College Considerations

As Quan and I saw more of each other, I started to reconsider my decision to attend Elk River. It was so far away, and Quan had already committed to attending UCLA.

I did my best thinking while my hands were occupied with something else, and with the deadline to respond to college acceptance letters looming and me no closer to a decision between UCLA and Elk River, I needed all my brain power. 

Our family piano stood against a wall in the eating area adjacent to the kitchen. My long fingers flew across the chipped ivory keys of our old family piano, tracing the familiar patterns of songs I had memorized over years of lessons. The music resounded through the whole house. I relaxed a bit as the wall of sound quieted my swirling worries. I tried to conjure up a picture of me walking through a college campus, hoping the details of my imagination would yield some clue to my heart’s desire.

“Giselle? Gigi! Earth to Giselle,” Mom called, repeating variations of my name at intervals until I responded. She knew that sometimes I tuned out the world when I sat at the piano, hearing only the notes and my own musings.
The smell of ground beef and cumin and the scrape of the spatula against the skillet told me she was at the stove, which stood at the opposite end of the kitchen.

Eventually, I stilled my fingers long enough to yell back. “What?”

“You don’t have to shout. I’m right here,” she said, popping her head around the corner. “Giselle, when you finish playing that song, I want you to get up and go work on your college response letters until dinner’s ready.” Her voice took on that wheedling tone she always used for nagging. “Don’t forget, it’s not too late to change your mind and go to a local school.”

“Thanks, Mom. You’re making this SO easy for me.”

“Watch your tone.”

I continued in a gentler voice. “I’m sorry. What I meant to say was, it seems like you’re second guessing my decision every chance you get. You holding the deadline over my head—”

“Being reminded of the deadline makes me feel—” she corrected.

I gritted my teeth and restarted the sentence. “Being reminded of the deadline makes me feel like you don’t trust me.” I turned back and played the opening bars of Für Elise again, hoping she’d leave me alone.

“I hear your feelings and acknowledge them.”

I hoped Mom would get off this psychobabble kick soon.

She put a hand on my shoulder. “Have you been praying about it? Has God really given you peace about attending Elk River?”

I met her eyes then quickly looked back at my hands, pretending to concentrate as I finished off the first movement.

“Sure, I’ve been praying.” Again with the guilt trip? I had been praying, but apparently not enough, because I certainly wasn’t at peace. “I guess I’m still waiting for the answer.”

She tousled my hair. “I’m proud of you. You’re becoming such a godly young woman. Remember what Scripture says, ‘Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.’ And your Confirmation verse, ‘Cast your cares on Him, for he cares for you.’ I know the Lord will answer your prayers at just the right time.”

“Yeah, okay. I hope so.” I got up from the piano. “I guess I’ll go work on those letters now.” Maybe I would go back to the drawing board and put all the options back on the table.


I went to the big oak desk in Daddy’s study and looked over the acceptance materials from each college one more time. Was I making the right decision? What did it mean to “lean not on my own understanding”?

I was seventh in my class. I didn’t want to go to an overcrowded Cal State that anyone with a pulse could get into. I also didn’t want to get into a lot of debt. 
Elk River was far away, but Oma’s recent promise to pay for my tuition if I went there, along with the academic and legacy scholarships I qualified for, meant that it was by far the cheapest option, even less than the dreaded Cal State. 

UCLA was more prestigious, closer to home, and Quan would be going there. But we’d only been dating a few weeks, and though I liked him quite a bit, there were a few things about him that got on my nerves. He was nice. Too nice. He was so supportive and sincere and eager. Like a persistent puppy who won’t stop licking your hand. Who knew how long we would last? 

Still, UCLA was a big enough place that it probably wouldn’t matter if we did break up. We could easily never see each other again despite going to the same school. Quan shouldn’t be a factor.

Before I could think about it further, Mom called me for dinner.

Chapter 4, part 2: Unwelcome Advice

"How was the prom?” Mom called from the kitchen when I came downstairs the next morning. “Want to tell me about it over breakfast? I’m making my famous buckwheat pancakes.”
“It was really fun.”
She started loading up my plate.
“Only one for me. Quan’s picking me up for brunch in an hour,” I said.
Just then Kirsten came downstairs, wearing a bikini top under an unbuttoned bowling shirt and baggy men’s pants, a beach bag slung over her shoulder. She had changed a lot in the past few weeks.  While Mom and Daddy were on their cruise, Kirsten chopped off her long strawberry blonde hair to a rough pixie style and dyed it a ghoulish purply-black.  Then she went to local thrift stores and came home with a new wardrobe consisting of men’s work pants and an odd assortment of t-shirts with random slogans and “ironic” polyester blouses from the eighties. 
Mom made an exaggerated gasp. “Kirsten, you’re not wearing that are you? You look like a boy from behind.”
For all Mom’s efforts to be more positive, she was struggling with Kirsten’s changed appearance. It seemed she couldn’t let a day pass by without making some arch comment to let Kirsten know how unflattering the look was. 
Kirsten either chose to ignore or hadn’t heard Mom’s comment.
“Pancakes! Yum! I’ll have to eat fast though,” she said. “Heidi and I are taking the bus down to Newport for the day. I may not have my license yet, but I can still get around.”
Kirsten had taken and failed her driving test two times already.
She turned to me. “How was the prom? Wait, I just heard he’s taking you to brunch, so it must have gone pretty well.” She giggled. “So does that mean you two are an item now?”
I blushed. “Too soon to tell. Probably not though.”
I recounted the terrible tale of the lamentable first kiss while Kirsten wolfed down a stack of pancakes and laughed at Quan’s expense.
Mom sat at the table with us. “Kirsten, Giselle, don’t be unkind. I feel sorry for the poor guy. He was probably so nervous,” she said. “Though I think you’re very wise to put off getting into a relationship now, Giselle.”
“But you know what they say: practice makes perfect!” Kirsten said, poking me in the ribs and making kissy faces.
“Cut it out, Kirsten. I’m not so sure I want to ‘practice’ with Quan. He came on a little too strong.”
Kirsten cleared her plate and slung the beach bag over her shoulder again. “I say give him another chance. It will be good for you to date a little,” she said as she headed to the door. “I’ve been dating Charlie since forever. You’re a senior. Don’t you think it is about time you got a boyfriend?”
Mom got up and stopped her at the door. “Kirsten, that was not kind. Try again.”
Kirsten rolled her eyes. “Give me a break with all the try again stuff.”
Mom glared and kept her hand on the door handle.
“OK, OK, just pretend I said give him another chance and forget all that other stuff.” She lowered her voice to a stage whisper, “Even though it’s true.” In her normal voice she continued, “Though I’d love to stay and give you more much needed advice, I’ve got to go or I’ll miss the bus.”
Before Mom could stop her again, she was out the door.
“I worry about that girl,” Mom said as she returned to the kitchen. “She’s always been so headstrong and disrespectful. When she was little I thought that meant I had to crack down harder on her, but it only pushed her further away. With all I’m learning I finally see the damage I was doing to our relationship. I pray it’s not too late. At least God in his grace seems to have protected you from the bad effects of my old ways. But when I see Kirsten dressing like that I get scared of what she might be getting into. Why else would she choose to look so unattractive?”

I let Mom go on worrying aloud about Kirsten as I gave more serious thought to how things might develop with Quan.

***
I was in the middle of a daydream about how Quan’s kisses might improve with practice when Mom finished her monologue and interrupted me.
"So we’ve talked about your love life. How is your spiritual life?" Mom asked with that fake-casual tone of hers.
I tried not to roll my eyes at her. Whenever she asked that question, I felt like the state of my soul was on trial. What could I say to make sure I passed this little test?
Oh, it's great! I get up at the crack of dawn just to pray for three hours and then read three chapters from the Old Testament, at least one Psalm and then just for fun I'm also working on translating one of Paul's letters from the original Greek. And did I mention how humble I am?
Yeah, right. Between working for Pastor Jim and rehearsals for the school production of Grease and just surviving the living soap opera that is high school while prepping for AP exams, when would I have time for all that? I loved God and all, but to be honest, most days He was lucky to get a quick "Help!" or "Thanks!" from me.
And while I had been doing pretty good on keeping my purity vow, if I had a sexy dream like the one last night, well, then, I figure that He wouldn't want to hear from me at all for a few days. I already felt guilty enough, why did she have to ask this now?
"Honey, I only ask as a gentle reminder. You’ve seemed so stressed lately. You can always talk to me, but God wants to hear about it too. You know this stuff. ‘Don't worry about anything but with prayer and petition ...’ "
Is it bad that I tuned the rest out? I mean, I'd heard it all before. Okay, so maybe I was a tiny bit stressed out. Maybe she would say I’d be perfectly calm if I DID pray three hours a day and all that. In other words, if I was stressed, it was my fault for not praying enough. Nothing I did was ever good enough.
Mom got my attention by mentioning Oma. "Just an example, it’s great that your grandmother so generously offered to pay your way to a school in Ohio, but are you sure it’s God’s will? Have you been in prayer about it?"
I was trying to nod and smile and just let her finish, but I couldn't take it anymore. "Okay, okay! I get it, I need to be a better Christian. Could you lose the guilt trip?"
"Aw, Giselle, sweetie, I didn't mean it that way ..." She reached out to squeeze my shoulder.
"Whatever. I’m going to go outside to wait for Quan." I sidestepped her touch and slunk away before she could start up again.
***
Quan pulled up to the curb in his grey Honda Civic, got out and opened the passenger side door for me.

“Good morning, milady,” he said in a put-on announcer voice after he slipped into the driver seat. “Last night was magical. Thank you for joining me this morning so the fairy tale can continue.”

I giggled uncomfortably. “Quan, you goof. You don’t have to try so hard, you know.”

“Oh, no? How else am I supposed to win the hand of the fair maiden?”

“That’s the thing. You already have. Let’s just relax and enjoy being a couple OK?”

“As you wish, milady,” he said in an even more ridiculous voice, flourishing waving his right hand in a with a mock little bow above the steering wheel. The twinkle in his eye dared me to do something about it.

“If you want me to stay your lady, you’ll cut it out,” I chuckled, trying to knock his hand out of the air. He let me pull it down to the console between the bucket seats. I left my hand in his the rest of the trip, enjoying the warm tingles up my arm as he stroked my palm.

Kirsten was right. It was high time that I had a boyfriend.