Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chapter 29, part 2: Questions

Confession was supposed to good for the soul. So why did I still feel so bad? Something about Brad’s response to my secret reminded me of Jonas’s words.
Brad’s sharp voice interrupted my thoughts. “Giselle, I asked you a question.”
“What?”
“You’re barely listening to me. I don’t get it. Don’t tell me something else is bothering you. Why can’t you just relax like a normal person?”
“I am perfectly normal. Why does it bother you so much that I have something on my mind? If you absolutely must know, I was thinking about something Jonas said to me the other day.”
“That loser? What did he want other than to try to get in your pants?”
“Don’t talk like that. I don’t know why you think those things. We’re just friends, that’s all. Jonas warned me.”
“Warned you. That sounds ominous. About what?”
“About you, I guess. He said he went to high school with you, and he knew what you were really like. That you had a reputation as a player, that you broke hearts all over the county. He said I should be careful or you would break my heart too.”
“Heh. Well, maybe he did hear those things in high school. I was popular with the ladies, sure. Too bad for them, they all turned out to be psycho. All clingy, needy, whiny and annoying. I’m lucky I found Wendy junior year.”
“That’s funny—Jonas said that you treated her worst of all.”
“Now that’s just a flat out lie. Malicious. Low.” His eyes darkened with anger. “You saw how Wendy and I were still friends when you went with me to my old church. Do you think that if I really hurt her that bad she would even speak to me?”
“So why did you break up?”
“I don’t really remember.” He stared ahead, jaw tight again.  He couldn’t even look at me.
Suddenly I regretted bringing the whole thing up. Love keeps no record of wrongs. If I loved him like I told Kirsten, why was I digging around in the past? “Sorry I brought that up.”
“Yeah.”
I took off my light jacket and hugged it to my chest. After miles of lushly treed countryside, the landscape opened up to tiny farms dotted with old-fashioned equipment. A horse and buggy trundled down the southbound lane.
“Look at that, Brad!”
“Yes, there are Amish along this stretch of 13. They’re cute as long as they’re not slowing me down.”
Love is not easily angered, I reminded myself. Let it go. For just a moment, I met the eyes of the young girl in a white bonnet who held the reins. I marveled at her quiet dignity. But wait. Love also perseveres. Love rejoices with the truth.
"Jonas said Wendy dumped you because she caught you with some other girl,” I blurted.
“What the heck!” He smacked the steering wheel and punched the stereo power button, killing the music. “What did I just finish telling you? Don’t you trust me? I can’t believe you would even give Jonas and his stupid theories the time of day. It’s so obvious to anyone with eyes in their head that he has a crush on you. He’s just filling your head with lies about me so he can have you to himself. Besides, I thought we went over this territory with Zoey this summer.”
Cowed by his sudden anger, I apologized again. “Okay, okay. I’m sorry. I never should have brought it up. I do trust you. I love you.” Still, there was one more question I had been pondering since Jonas’ warning. Might as well ask it now while he’s already mad. “Brad, can I ask one more thing.”
“I’d rather you not, but I don’t suppose my preference will stop you, will it?”
I winced at his biting tone, but plowed ahead. “What exactly did you mean when you said you were popular with the ladies?”
“You want to know if I’m a virgin,” he said flatly.
“Right.”
“No. I’m not. Sorry to disappoint you, Miss Perfect.”
My heart sank. He was right, his response didn’t line up with any of my expectations or ideals. Since thinking about doing it and actually doing it were the same by God’s standards, I wasn’t perfectly pure either. But I still always pictured being my future husband’s first real encounter. God, I silently prayed, it’s so clear to me that you’ve given me this man to marry. Help me forgive him for the sins in his past. I resolved never to tell Brad of my disappointment. It would only hurt him; only make him doubt God’s love and my love.
Brad’s next words were softer, vulnerable. “You’re awfully quiet. Are you disappointed?”
“No?” That wasn’t convincing at all. I rushed to restate it more firmly. “No, really, it’s okay. I forgive you. It’s in the past, right? Besides, like I said, God looks at our hearts and not just our actions. A sin is a sin, and I’m no better than you when it comes to that kind of immorality.”
“I wish you wouldn’t talk like that. Forget condemnation and shame. Just accept yourself. So what if God created you with a higher sex drive than other girls? Lucky for your future husband, is what I say.” He squeezed my knee. “We’ll just have a better sex life than the rest of those prudes.”
I blushed and put my hand over his. His tolerant words flooded me with relief. It sounded so appealing, but was it true? God had created my sexual urges, so they couldn’t be bad? Had I really been feeling guilty over nothing?

As the car sped past hills blanketed in glorious fall foliage, I became increasingly hopeful that there really wasn’t anything wrong with what I’d been doing and feeling. I began to daydream about Brad and I getting married. I tried to be extra agreeable for the last hour of the drive to make things up to him.  

Chapter 29, part 1: Confidante

Later that evening, Brad came in his Sentra to pick me up. He was heading up to Mansfield to celebrate his birthday, and he invited me along so I could meet his parents.
“Do you have everything you need for the long weekend, babe?” he asked.
“Sure do. You don’t know how much I’m looking forward to this.”
"So you’re excited to meet my folks, huh? I must not be the only one who thinks we have something special here.”
“Yeah, but it’s more than that. I just got into a little argument with my sister and it’ll be good to get away from campus.” The weekend away would give me time to study Brad too and see if Kirsten’s words had any merit.
“What’d you two fight about?”
"You, actually. She says you’re not good enough for me.”
Brad scoffed. “She doesn’t even know me. Where does she get off? I’m sorry to tell you this, sweetie, but your sister is a witch with a b if you know what I mean.”
“Watch it.”
“Just telling it like I see it.”
“Let’s just drop it, ok?”
I didn’t like to hear such harsh words against my sister, but I hated arguing more. I wanted to stat our weekend on the right foot.
Brad put his hand on my knee, moving it in slow circles gradually up my thigh. What would happen if I didn’t stop him? Once again I wondered how far was too far. The call to purity rang clear as a bell through my brain and a shame spiral began anew. Lost in a world of self-condemnation, I hardly said a word to Brad.
“You’ve been unusually quiet since we left Elkridge,” Brad commented as he navigated the car through the hills along Route 13. “Still angry that I called your sister a name?”
“Not really. Well, maybe just a little. Actually, there’s something else on my mind, but I don’t really want to talk about it. Don’t worry. It’s not a big deal anyway.” I fell back into silence, continuing to stare out the window.
“Could have fooled me. I’ve never seen you this down. Could it be that you’re nervous about meeting my parents?”
“Nervous? Why?” I gave a half smile. “Parents usually seem to like me.”
“Is that so?”
“Sure, what’s not to like?” I tried to fake a fuller smile.
“What is it then? Out with it. If we’re going to get married one day, you have to be able to tell me what’s bothering you. Please don’t make me guess, it drives me crazy.”
So he did have marriage on his mind! I remembered the still small urging to talk about my secret shame with someone. Maybe Brad was the right person … especially if he wanted to marry me. I started and stopped several sentences, looking for the right words.
“Just spit it out already,” Brad said.
“I’m sorry, but this is difficult for me,” I said, hating the whine in my voice. “I don’t know how to say it.”
His knuckles went white on the steering wheel. “You want to break up with me.”
“What? No, don’t be silly. I’m going with you to meet your parents and tell them we’re in love. Why would I break up with you?”
His hands relaxed but his body remained taut. “Babe, just tell me. I don’t like these kind of games.”
“Okay, I’ll try. Did you ever read Romans chapter seven? ‘For the things I want to do, I don’t do and the things I hate, that I do?’”
“Vaguely. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well, we’ve been studying it in church the past few Sundays, and it just sums up what I’m going through lately. There is a sin that I keep going back to; even though I promised myself I would stop. I was doing really great for a while, but yesterday … well, I didn’t flee from temptation, and I fell into this sin again.” My voice broke. “I’m so ashamed.”
"What are you crying about? You’re seriously freaking me out. Are you a drug addict or something?”
Suddenly my tears turned to giggles.
He clenched his jaw and turned away.
“I’m sorry. I’m not laughing at you, I promise. It’s just that,” I broke up laughing again, “drug addiction is so far from what I was trying to get out. I was simply shocked you got that out of it. I’ve never even been offered drugs. I wouldn’t know the first thing about where to get them or how to use them.”
He began to laugh along with me. “Wow, you really scared me there for a minute. I don’t know what I was thinking. You, on drugs! Ha! You’re so absentminded half the time as it is, you’d lose your head if drugs were added to the mix.”
How ditzy did he think I was? At first I thought his jokes about having my head in the clouds were good natured, but this time it hurt. I straightened up and squared my shoulders. “Brad, that’s not fair. Besides, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about those type of comments. It hurts my feelings when you talk like that,” I said. Did he just roll his eyes? “I know I can be forgetful, but you don’t need to harp on me about it every chance you get.”
“Gee, babe, loosen up will ya? Learn to take a joke. I’m not used to dealing with someone who’s so sensitive.”
I folded my arms and didn’t reply.
“Here we go!  Don’t pull a silent wounded act. Just talk to me. So if it’s not drugs, then what?”
I stammered some more, but finally got a coherent sentence out. “I like to read romance novels, or sometimes stories like that online, and well … I’ve never told anyone this before,” I whispered.
This time he did the laughing. “Oh my word. I can’t believe you were so worked up about that.” He laughed again, more derisively. “You really had me going there, thinking it was something serious.”
“You don’t seem to understand. It’s wrong. It’s disgusting. I’m sinning against my body. The Bible says to lust is the same thing as committing adultery.”
“Babe, don’t you get it? That’s just the crazy talk of a repressed society. Your parents or your pastors—or more likely both—taught you to be ashamed of your sexuality, but there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. It’s natural. Didn’t God say all creation was good? You’re beating yourself up for nothing, overdramaticizing everything as usual.”

Brad turned up the car stereo and I turned inward.

Chapter 28, part 3: Rising Tension

Brad welcomed me to his basement apartment. “Thanks for helping me with this assignment, babe.”

I took off my light jacket and sniffed. The room smelled of incense. “No problem, what do I have to do?”

“It’s for my social studies class. We have to go through a list of premarital counseling questions with someone and see how our answers line up.”

“Sounds interesting. My sister’s engaged, do you think maybe I can copy down the questions and give it to her to look at later.”

“Sure, babe.  So, I know this might be a little awkward, with us just getting back together and all, but I couldn’t think of anyone else to ask.”

“No worries. I can be objective.”

“Okay, first question. ‘Do you want kids?’”

“Yes.”

“Me too. I think we’d be great parents some day. They’ll get your looks and brains, of course. I’ll teach little Brad Jr. everything I know about baseball and photography, and they’ll grow up to be doctors and senators. Maybe even the president.”

Brad kept up that kind of running commentary after every question, painting a picture of what it would be like to be married one day. I started to play along and then it quickly started to feel like a real possibility. It felt so right to daydream together. Brad’s descriptions of our potential life as husband and wife started out with a some day, distant quality, but as we reached the end of the list, he’d tightened the time frame for our future nuptials considerably.

“I wonder if the college would let a married couple share a dorm room?” he asked at one point. “Or we could just live here together. Sorry, I know I’m getting carried away. It’s just that, I never considered marriage so seriously before.”

Did he mean marriage to me? Could things really be moving that fast? My brow furrowed.

He quickly reassured me.  “Now, this is all hypothetical of course. I don’t want you getting scared off or anything.”

“Oh, it’s not that. I’m just tired,” I lied.

“Let me take you home then. I think I can finish the rest of the questions by myself,” he said.

He dropped me off in front of the German House.

“Good night, Brad,” I whispered as I kissed him good night.

“Good night. Sweet dreams, birthday girl!”

I smiled. “That’s not until tomorrow.”

“Look at the time. It’s tomorrow already.”

***

Before I went to bed that night I listened to the messages on my voicemail. One was from Kirsten, inviting me over to her room for a birthday celebration. The other was from Ian.
“Great news, Giselle. Breanne accepted Christ last night! It worked out that you and Brad didn’t show up … Sylvie, Jonas and I ministered to her in a powerful way that probably wouldn’t have been possible in a bigger group.”
I hoped that I’d misinterpreted what I’d seen going on between Breanne and Lori at the grocery stand on Saturday, or else things were about to get very uncomfortable at CSF.
***
I knocked on Kirsten’s dorm door and she invited me in.
“Happy Birthday!” she said as we hugged. “You’re welcome to sit anywhere on my side of the room. I don’t know if Lisa will care if I touch her stuff, but things are so tense between us as it is, I don’t want to even risk it.”
I settled onto Kirsten’s bed. “I totally understand. Been there, done that with Lacey last year.”
Kirsten took the chair at the desk. A stamped envelope addressed to Heidi lay near the corner. She picked up a small handmade card. “Here, I made you something.”
I opened the card and then hugged her. "This has been such a happy birthday,” I said. “Oh, Kirsten, can I tell you a secret?”
“What?”
“I’m in love! This is the real thing.”
“With that Brad guy we had lunch with yesterday?”
“Yes, isn’t he great?”
“Great isn’t the first word that comes to mind.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know exactly. To be honest, something about that guy rubbed me the wrong way. I think you deserve better.”
“What could be better? He’s a total stud, he goes to CSF, he showers me with affection …”
“How long have you actually known this guy? Isn’t he the same one you weren’t sure about this summer?”
“Yes,” I said with a little less confidence.
“Giselle, I’m sorry but that is crazy. Have you even prayed about this?”
“Of course I have. Can’t you just be happy for me?”
“I’m sorry Giselle, I just can’t. I don’t like anything about this.” She reached for my hand. “Please listen to me. I can’t explain it but I just know. Trust me. This guy is bad news.”
“How can you say that? You don’t even know him.” But did I?
Despite my vigorous defense, Kirsten’s concern was getting to me. Was really she seeing something I couldn’t? No, there had to be a more logical explanation … if I could just find it. Aha!
“Looking back at yesterday, I can see why he rubbed you the wrong way. He has a strong personality, just like you. He can come off a little opinionated, but he’s not really like that deep down. Can you give him another chance?”
She shrugged, “Whatever you say. Please think about what I said though. Don’t rush into anything, especially not just because I’m engaged. You don’t need to catch up with me or anything.”
How dare she talk down to me like that! “You’re right, I don’t need to catch up. This isn’t even about that. Not everything is about you Kirsten. Maybe Brad was right when he said he could see why you had problems getting along with your roommate. Why don’t you get off your high horse and grow up?”
“I think you’d better leave now.” She held the door open and slammed it behind me.

Chapter 28, part 2: Jonas and Kirsten

Jonas Manning called me a few days later.

“Can we meet? There’s something I need to talk to you about.”

“Sure. How about the student center in an hour?”

“It’s probably better if we go someplace with a little more privacy,” he said.

Uh, oh. What did we need privacy for? Brad’s theory that all my guy friends were secretly interested in me came to mind.

“We could grab one of the study rooms,” I suggested.

“I guess that will work.”

Jonas waved me over to one of the study rooms when I arrived. “These are hot commodities today. I was lucky to grab this one. I practically had to guard it with my life.”

I followed him in to the room. He looked surreptitiously around before closing the door behind him.

“So what’s up?” 

Jonas's bushy black eyebrows furrowed with concern.“There’s something I’ve got to say that you won’t like to hear. I’ve debated whether to come to you with this at all, but … well, I’d kick myself if something happened and I could have saved you from it.” 

“What won’t I want to hear?”

“It’s about Brad. I’ve seen you sitting together at Soulfire and Bible study and then you came with him to church on Sunday. Are you two an item?”

I blushed and tried but failed to suppress a smile.

“Looks like maybe I’m too late. I should have said something when I saw him flirting with you at the Passion Play.”

“Said what? What’s wrong with Brad?”

“He’s a smooth operator, a heart breaker.”

“How would you know?”

“We went to high school together, back in Exeter. He was the biggest player. He’d say whatever it took to get in girls’ pants and then dump them for the newest model as soon as he got the chance. I saw it first hand with Wendy, my friend you met Sunday? She’s still messed up from how he screwed with her mind. She actually caught him cheating.”

“That was high school,” I protested. “People change.”

“Has he? His classic move was telling girls their last boyfriend called them a tease so they’d go farther with him.”

I looked at him sharply.

“Sound familiar? You don’t have to answer.” He checked his watch. “I’ve got to run. Just promise me you’ll think about what I said.”


I didn’t want to believe what Jonas had said. Did he really think I was that stupid to fall for cheap manipulation like that? I knew a good guy when I saw one. No, Brad must have changed since high school. He may have made some mistakes then, but now he was coming to CSF and Bible study. And he took me to his church. That meant something, right? He definitely had changed. Or had he?

***

The next day, Kirsten asked me to eat lunch with her, and I was glad for the excuse to avoid Brad for a bit so I could process what Jonas had said. She dominated the conversation as usual, venting about Lisa.

“Thanks for listening, sis,” she said toward the end of the meal. “I just really need to process the Lisa situation with someone I absolutely know is on my side.”

“It sounds so tough,” I said.

“Do you think I should ask for a room reassignment?”

Before I could answer, Brad joined us.

“Hey, I’ve been looking for you, babe.” He sat down, pulled his chair close and put his arm around me.

“Brad, this is my sister. Kirsten, Brad has some family in California too.”

“Oh, which part?” Kirsten asked.

“Anaheim Hills. But I spent tons of time down at the beach with my cousins every summer. Loved to surf.”

“Oh yeah? Me too!”

“You don’t look like a surfer chick to me. What beach did you mostly go to?”

“Mostly by the numbered streets in Newport.”

“Oh, that’s baby stuff compared to Crystal Cove. Only tourists and posers went to the numbered streets when I visited there.”

At the tense silence that settled over the table, I looked for a change in subject. “Kirsten, I’m sorry, we were talking about your problems with your roommate before Brad got here.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty bad. I’m thinking of asking for a room reassignment.”

“Sounds like you’re giving up way too easily,” Brad said. “My first year here, I had an awful first month, just awful. But I stuck it out and me and my roomie turned out to be best buds. We even rushed the same fraternity in the spring.”

“I’m glad it worked out for you, but you don’t know anything about this situation,” Kirsten said.

“Whoa, calm down. I’m just offering a little friendly advice. Touchy touchy.”

Kirsten rose to go. “Giselle, I’ll call you later. Enjoy the rest of your lunch.”

“I can see why she’d have trouble getting along with a roommate,” Brad said after she left. “Speaking of getting along, I have an assignment for my social studies class I need your help with. Can you come by my apartment after dinner tonight?”

“What about Ian’s Bible study?” I’d been looking forward to continuing our group’s frank discussion of what the Bible really had to say about sexuality.

“This assignment is really important. Can’t we skip Bible study just once?”

“I guess so. See you tonight.”

Chapter 28, part 1: Smooth Moves

Monday afternoon, Brad and I set out on foot from campus to his basement apartment, his hand always on my shoulder or at my waist. Before leaving campus we stopped to kiss in the gazebo at the edge of the lake.
When he was alive, Opa liked to retell the story of his courtship, which centered in part on this very gazebo. “Back in my day, couples who were sweet on one another would go to the Spoonholder to exchange a few innocent kisses. Folks called it spooning back then, you see. Legend had it, if your sweetheart kissed you there three times, you were fated to be married. Your Oma, well she was sorta superstitious about things like that, so I made sure we stopped in at the Spoonholder at least a dozen times before I finally popped the question.”
I smiled at the memory.
“Mmmm … I love your smile,” Brad said. “It might be one of my favorite things about you.”
I smiled wider. “Is that right?”
“It’s true. It makes me feel so good to know it’s just for me.” He took my hand as we exited the Spoonholder. We headed across Lakeside Drive to one of the back streets that led off campus, me chattering about my upcoming birthday.
As we approached the foot of the hill that led to his place, Brad said, “There’s that gorgeous smile again. Ian or Jonas couldn’t make you so happy as I do, right?” He lay heavy emphasis on the names.
I stopped in my tracks. “Why bring them up?”
“Don’t you think they’re interested in you?”
“Ian? No way. He’s just a friend. And I just met Jonas.”
“Forget I said anything. I just don’t like that you spend so much time with other guys. But if you tell me I don’t have anything to worry about, I guess that’s good enough for me.”
He kissed me again, and I responded as passionately as I could as if to prove he was the only guy for me.

“That’s more like it,” he said. “You know, maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but some of my frat brothers tease me about not going all the way with you. They even called you an Ice Princess, but I told them to knock it off. Besides, we both know how sensual you really are.”

We both know how sensual you really are. Brad’s words echoed through the rest of the week. Each time he kissed me, each time we embraced, I prolonged and intensified it to prove he was right and his frat brothers were wrong.

In a matter of days, we were back at the point where I had started to get uncomfortable before summer break. While watching TV together one evening in the living room of the German House, Brad’s hand found its way up my shirt. I moved it away, but only reluctantly. The more time we spent kissing and caressing, the more I wanted.

Thursday at Bible study, Sylvie joined Jonas, Breanne, Brad and I. We continued going through the materials Breanne had printed out, and they raised more questions than answers for me. 

Was it really possible that gays were hidden in the Bible, and portrayed in a positive light for those with eyes to see them? If supposedly black and white standards like homosexuality being an abomination could be misinterpretations that referred only to temple prostitution or cultic sex or fertility rites, then could it be that it was OK for me to go further with Brad?

How far exactly was too far? Friday I spent all my study time online researching sexual ethics, hoping to find a persuasive argument that would give me permission to go further. Instead, I found an article that could have been written by my high school youth leader Jolene. “The standard is absolute purity.”

I was so far from pure. Not only was I fooling around with Brad, my mind was filled with salacious imagery from the erotic stories I couldn’t seem to stop myself from reading. I continued to ignore the little voice prompting me to find someone to talk with about it. Who would want to hear something so disgusting? Why embarrass myself if it possibly wasn’t even a sin anyway?

Saturday I walked down to the grocery store on Main Street. It surprised me to see Breanne hanging out near Lori’s checkout stand. Were they getting back together?

Sunday Brad invited me to go with him to visit the Catholic church he had attended in high school in Exeter. Jonas Manning was there with his family, his wiry black curls slicked into a part, adam’s apple protruding above his tie. After church, Jonas stood talking with a pretty blonde. I went to say hello, Brad trailing behind.

“Hi, Jonas. Who’s your friend?” I asked.

Brad answered before Jonas could even open his mouth. “This is an ex-girlfriend, Wendy. Wendy, Giselle.”

I shook her hand.

“Jonas told me you were here,” she said to Brad. “Couldn’t stay away from your old stomping grounds, eh?”

“Something like that. Well, we’ve got to go. I’ve been craving omelets and they only serve them in the dining hall until noon.”  He pulled me by the hand out of the church as I called out hurried goodbyes.

Chapter 27, part 2: Spontaneity

“You said you grew up in Exeter, right?” I asked as he opened the car door. “Does your family still live there?”
He waited to answer until he walked around the car and climbed in the driver’s seat. I repeated the question, thinking he hadn’t heard.
“No.” he said. “I mean, not anymore. My mom and dad just moved away this week.”
“Really? Where did they go?”
“The car dealership where my dad works closed down and his boss transferred him up to another one in the same chain up in Mansfield.”
My face must have reflected my vague comprehension of Ohio geography, because he quickly explained.
“It’s a hundred miles or so northwest from here if you take the back roads.”
I thanked him for the clarification and then started to list all the places I had visited in Ohio by going on field trips with CSF or staying with roommates and friends over holiday weekends, those breaks too short to fly home and too long to stay alone on campus.
As we pulled onto the highway, he put his hand lightly on my knee. We drove in silence for a few miles.
“I wonder why there are so many buses on the road tonight,” I said after a few minutes.
“You know, I was wondering the same thing,” Brad said. “It’s kind of crazy. We’ve passed at least fifteen buses, all with names of churches painted on the sides, and they’re all going the same direction. It’s like they’re migrating for the winter or something.”
We passed a few more buses, and Brad pointed out that all the faces looking back at us had been male.
“That’s it!” I jumped in the seat and clapped my hands for emphasis.
“What’s it?”
“When I went to church with Lacey on Wednesday night, they mentioned something about some sort of event for Christian men in D.C. It’s this weekend.”
“My oldest sister is a big-time is a feminist and hates that sort of thing,” he said. “What do you think?”
“I’m not sure. My dad says the world needs more strong men, and women are happiest when they have a good man to follow.”
After a few more miles in silence, I said dreamily, “Just picture it: all those men in one place, all worshiping God. It would be so amazing to see it in person.”
“So why don’t we?”
“You mean just drop everything and go to Washington D.C. on a whim?”
“Sure why not? What’s a few hours sleep and a tank of gas compared to being part of history? It’s only a five hour drive, more or less. We even have time to stop on campus and find another couple to go with us so we can take turns driving and sleeping. I bet we would make it by sunrise.”
“That’s crazy,” I said.
We drove in silence for a few minutes while I imagined the possibilities. More time with Brad. Being part of something bigger than myself. Listening to God’s voice?
“Let’s go for it!” I exclaimed.

“You mean it? Dude, I can’t believe you’re being so cool about this. A beautiful face, a rockin’ bod, a razor sharp mind and a sense of adventure? I was right—you definitely are the woman for me. Zoey’s got nothing on you.” He grinned as we stopped at one of Elkridge’s three traffic lights. “Now, who would be crazy enough to come along?” 
***
In Washington D.C., we stood in a line at a McDonald’s. Not so unusual, except that the queue wrapped around the block, and was made up almost entirely of men. Ian and Brad chatted ahead of me. At my side stood one of the girls from the Volleyball house. What was her name again?
“So, Sylvia, what’s your major?” I asked to make conversation.
The girl stretched at length before answering. “Actually, it’s just Sylvie. Sorry about yawning in your face like that. This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done. I can’t believe I let Ian talk me into it. One minute, he and my housemates are watching Monty Python in my room, and the next, he gets your call and is all gung ho to take off for DC. Oh, wait, you wanted to know my major, not my life story. Sorry again. It’s early childhood education.”
“No problem – I’m feeling pretty loopy too,” I said. "So, how’d you decide on your major?”
“I’ve just always really liked kids, I guess. I grew up babysitting my five younger brothers and sisters. I’m an old pro at it by now, so why not get paid for it?”
On the Mall, we four students found a place to stand near the back of the crowd and immediately joined in with the opening worship. A sea of men singing with one voice surrounded us, some raising their hands, some even prostrating themselves on the ground. We joined in the chorus of praise, our voices joining thousands of others of all colors and backgrounds. It felt like a glimpse of heaven.
All too soon the worship ended, and a speaker came to stage. The crowd began to sit in lawn chairs, on tarps or directly on the grass. A kind stranger offered us an extra blanket.
Before the speaker had even finished his introduction, Brad tapped me on the shoulder. “Enjoying yourself?”
“Definitely! Why, aren’t you?”
“Not so much. The worship was cool and everything – but I can barely hear this guy,” he said.
“Yeah, me either. I can barely keep my eyes open,” Sylvie said, leaning her head on Ian’s shoulder.
“There’s so much cool stuff to see in DC,” Brad said. “It seems like a waste to drive all the way out here just to sit and listen to a lecture – heck, I can do that back at school. Whaddya say we all walk around? We could go to the Smithsonian or something. It’s free, you know.”
“Sounds cool to me. Ian, Sylvie, you up for it?”
“Actually, I’m more interested in taking a nap,” Ian said. “What time do you want to head back to campus, Brad?”
“Two-thirty all right with everyone?”
Ian and Sylvie nodded assent as they folded their light jackets up to use as pillows.
Brad held my hand as we wandered through the American Art Museum. Exhaustion and exhilaration made me alternately quiet and bubbly. What I felt at this moment for Brad was so intense. Was this what it was like to be in love?
“Hey, beautiful,” Brad said, pulling me into a corner of the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit. “Come here a minute.”
“Why?” I asked, wide-eyed.
“Because I think we should have a little privacy.”
With that, his lips softly touched mine. I kissed back, opening ever so slightly. He took the invitation and swirled his tongue across my lips and into my mouth.
“Wow! Did I ever tell you that you’re a great kisser,” he said when the kiss finally ended.
“Thanks. You too,” I said automatically.
“No, I mean it. I’m a little surprised actually.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You look so innocent, so nervous and sweet. But there’s a hidden side to you, isn’t there?” 

Chapter 27, part 1: Date with Brad

Friday afternoon, Brad met me after class and casually mentioned that he wanted to drive into Avondale that night. Would I like to come along? Of course I did.
At 6:15, I still hadn’t decided what to wear. I wanted to look my best for him. I applied a little white eye shadow and slightly tinted lip gloss. I swept back my mass of hair into a half ponytail. Some days I lost the battle of the frizz to the Ohio humidity, but tonight I was rather pleased by the effect of dark loose curls cascading over my narrow shoulders and small tendrils framing my face. Just like Christine in Phantom of the Opera. That is, if Christine wore glasses.
As I stood outside the German House, I pushed up the sleeves of the olive v-neck top I’d chosen to bring out the green in my hazel eyes, then tugged them down again. I peered down Lakeside Drive, looking for Brad’s gray Nissan Sentra to crest the hill. He said he would pick me up at 6:30, and it was already 6:32.
There he was. I tracked the car as it rose over the hill and curved down around the campus lake, but looked away as it chugged closer. I didn’t want to seem impatient.
It seemed an eon before Brad pulled the car up to the curb. He leaned across the seat and pushed the door open. After a brief exchange of greetings, we drove in silence through campus toward Interstate 70. 
Near the on-ramp, a white-haired old gentleman in a battered pick-up truck moseyed along in front of us at 35 miles an hour. Brad swerved around the truck and floored the gas, muttering “Lousy blue hair drivers. They shouldn’t even be allowed on the road.”
“That’s a little harsh, isn’t it? Old people deserve to be on the road as much as we do. That guy could have had a very good reason for driving so slow. Besides, we aren’t in a hurry, are we?”
“Wow, I didn’t know I’d be getting my own personal sermon,” he said.
I stammered, not knowing how to respond.
“That was supposed to be a joke, by the way. All kidding aside, what you just did right there was so cool. That’s what I like about you, Giselle. You inspire me to be a better man. You and your cock-eyed optimism keep me in line.”
“Um, well … You’re welcome?”
Minutes passed without further conversation. I squirmed in the seat, adjusting the shoulder belt away from my neck. Brad glanced over, but he didn’t say anything. His jaw was clenched. Should I apologize for being so critical? I mentally rehearsed, trying to find just the right words.
Before I settled on my lines, Brad apologized. “Hey, listen, I really am sorry I got so worked up back there. Let’s just change the subject, okay?”
About twenty minutes after leaving campus, the car pulled up in front of a long squat building. Glass panels with hand-painted logos punctuated the brick fa├žade. The last window read “El Maguey” in green, white and red. Behind the strip center stretched the cracked parking lot of the Avondale Mall. 
El Maguey was the kind of place where guests just walked in and picked an open table, and that night there were many tables and few guests. I stopped at a table in the center of the room, and started to pull out a chair facing the window.
“Not there,” he said.
“Why not?”
Rather than answer, Brad led us to a table in the corner. Again I started to pull out the chair facing the window. “Actually, can I have that seat?” he asked.
“Okay, what’s going on? Why does it matter so much where we sit?”
“I need to be able to see the door, and know that there is no one sitting behind me. What if someone just happened to come in tonight to rob this joint? I want to be able to protect you. If I can see the door, I can jump in front of you and throw you down out of the line of fire. If I have my back to the wall, I know no one’s sneaking up behind me.”
“My hero!” I teased.
“That’s me.” He smile back. “Read your menu and decide what you want before the waiter comes to ask us what we want to drink. Maybe if we put in our order right away, we’ll have time to catch a movie too.”
While I perused the menu, Brad stopped me frequently to ask questions about my classes and family. When the waiter came, I asked for a glass of water.
Brad said, “I’ll take a root beer, and then the number thr—”
I interrupted. “Oh, gee, I’m so sorry, I’ve been so busy talking that I haven’t decided what to order yet.” I turned to the waiter. “Can you just bring the drinks and give us a few more minutes?”
The waiter nodded and walked away. Brad sighed deeply. “I guess we won’t be catching a movie after all.”
“Oh no! I really am sorry to have ruined your plan. I guess I just lost track of time. Maybe we can go to a later show?”
“No, it’s all right. So you’re a little flighty, no big deal.”
“What do you mean?”
“Hey, I was just giving you a hard time, don’t take it so seriously. I mean, you do seem to get distracted easily, but what girl doesn’t right?”
I looked down, not sure what to say.
“Never mind, I shouldn’t have said anything. Let’s just enjoy dinner.”
The drinks arrived and we put in our order. We sat just grinning at each other for a moment before both beginning to speak at once. I said he could go first. He told me about his photography class and what he and his fraternity brothers had been up to. I didn’t have much to say, but was just so happy to be back together with him that I smiled and nodded and let him do all the talking.

All too soon, it was nine o’clock. The restaurant closed and Brad paid the check. He took my hand as we walked to the car.