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By Robin Jones Gunn
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2009 Robin's Nest Productions, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKatie checked the time on her phone and pulled her sweatshirt's hood over her dancing red hair. Upper campus at Rancho Corona University could be surprisingly cold this time of year. Especially when the winds came up.
"Come on, Rick. Where are you? So much for your romantic idea of meeting up here at nine. It's 9:15, and I'm freezing."
Tapping out a third text message to her tall, dark, and tardy boyfriend, Katie hit Send and looked around. Another couple had made themselves cuddly and comfortable on the bench where Rick had told her to meet him. She stood to the side, under the row of shivering palm trees. Even their decorative strings of white twinkle lights seemed to tremble with the chill.
Katie coughed. Her throat was hurting more than it had at dinner in the cafeteria, when she had loaded her tray with soup, applesauce, and two glasses of orange juice.
I can't do this. Rick, you'll just have to come to my dorm if you want to see me tonight. It's too cold out here.
Starting back down the path to lower campus, Katie texted Rick again as she walked. It wasn't like Rick to leave her waiting, and even more unlike him not to respond to her messages. He was organized and efficient and ...
Her cell phone rang.
"Hey, don't be mad." Rick's voice came across loudly. She could tell he was on speakerphone, which meant he was in his new car. "I left my phone at the café and had to go back for it. I'm on the road now. Sorry I'm late, Katie. I can be there in a half hour."
Katie ignored the apology. She had heard a few too many of those lately. Three months ago Rick and his brother were presented with an opportunity to open not one but two new cafés. Ever since then, Rick had been "on the road."
"Let's just reschedule, Rick. I'm—"
"No, we can't reschedule. It's Valentine's Day!"
"Oh, really?" She would have expanded her sarcastic remark, but her head was pounding. How could a tickle in her throat escalate so quickly to feeling as if she were swallowing razor blades?
His voice softened. "I have something for you."
"I already received the flowers. They're beautiful. Thanks, Rick. You really don't have to give me anything else." Katie was feeling a familiar awkwardness over the gift-giving imbalance that had existed in their relationship since they officially started dating last summer. Rick enjoyed giving. So did Katie. The problem was that she could rarely come up with gift-type expressions of affection the way Rick could. She felt forever behind in the gift-giving department.
"I want to give the present to you tonight. Come on, Katie. Don't be mad at me. I'm really trying here."
"I'm not mad. Honest. I don't feel well. It was too cold and windy on upper campus, so I'm heading back to my room. Besides, another couple was on our bench."
"That's not a problem. Are you back at the dorm yet? I'll meet you there. We can go get something to eat."
Even though Katie knew better than to argue with Rick when he had his mind set on something, she switched her phone to the other ear and said, "I'm really not hungry. I think I have the flu."
"Listen, I can be there in fifteen minutes. Twenty at the most. Take some cold pills and drink some orange juice. I'll come up to Crown Hall and give you a call when I drive into the parking lot. We'll decide what to do then."
Katie hung up, already knowing what she would want to do when he called later. It was the same thing she wanted to do right now: curl up in a ball under a warm blanket and sleep off this creeping crud.
Over half the girls on her floor had been hit with this year's variety of the flu. Just days ago Katie had bragged about how her prevention tactic had succeeded this year. She had spent the past three weeks drinking loads of herbal tea and downing lots of vitamin C. Her immune system was fortified against the attack.
Or so she thought.
The way she felt now was quickly surpassing anything a cup of tea could fix. It bugged her that Rick couldn't just let her be sick in peace.
As she entered Crown Hall, she avoided looking at any of the Valentine's Day couples seated in the lobby and made her way to Nicole's room. Her friend Nicole was the other resident assistant who shared with Katie the responsibility of overseeing the welfare of the fifty-four students on their floor. Katie knew she was going to need someone to cover on-duty hours for her as this virus ran its course.
Knocking on Nicole's half-closed door, Katie pushed it open and announced, "Guess what? I got it."
"You did? Oh, Katie, let me see!" Nicole jumped up and dashed toward her.
"What are you doing?" Katie pulled away. "I'm telling you I have the flu. I don't think you want to get close to me."
"Oh!" Caught off guard, Nicole froze in place. She nervously flipped her dark, silky hair behind her ears as her smooth complexion took on a rosy hue.
"Nothing." Nicole returned to her bed on the other side of the room. "I just ... Hey, I'm sorry to hear you're not feeling well."
"Not half as sorry as I am. How long did you have this bug?"
"Almost two weeks."
"I can't be sick that long."
"Hopefully it won't be that long for you."
"Yeah, hopefully. Can you cover the front desk for me tomorrow at 2:30?"
"Sure." Nicole was sitting perfectly still, trying to blink away the deer-in-the-headlights look that had overtaken her earlier.
"You sure you're okay?"
"Me? Yes, I'm good. I hope you feel better."
Katie gave a weak nod and exited. Her room at the end of the hall felt miles away.
Even though it was open-dorm night, the steady lineup of closed doors seemed to indicate that the majority of the women in Crown Hall were out that evening. Either that or they were holed up watching romantic movies with their roommates and telling each other that next year Valentine's Day would be different for them both. They would have somewhere to go and someone wonderful to go there with.
Or many of them could still be fending off this flu bug.
Katie paused at The Kissing Wall across from her door. The wall had been decorated at the start of the school year with a sweet variety of photos of innocent kisses. Along with the photos were verses and poems celebrating that ageless expression that brings fanciful hope to the heart of every young woman—a kiss.
Katie unlocked her door and thought of how, for so many years, she had hoped and dreamed of having a relationship with a guy who would bring her flowers and give her kisses on Valentine's Day. Now she had exactly what she wished for. But it wasn't exactly what she thought it would be.
Things with Rick were fine. Better than fine. Things were good. They had been good for months. At Christmastime Rick and Katie agreed to let their relationship bob along through this final semester of Katie's senior year. Once she graduated, they both would be in a better place to figure out the all-important question of "what's next?" For now, they agreed they were content with their status of "happily almost after."
Katie flopped onto her unmade bed and let out a self-sympathizing moan. A pestering thought floated in her foggy brain. What was Nicole so skittish about?
Pulling her cell phone from her sweatshirt's pocket, she stayed flat on her back and called Nicole. "So what do you know that I don't know?"
"What do I know about what?" Nicole's voice went up high at the end of her response.
Katie noted the inflection. "Why did you jump up when I came into your room?"
The other end of the phone went silent.
"Nicole, come on. You said, 'Let me see.' See what? What was I supposed to have?"
"Katie, I thought you and Rick had gone out to dinner tonight and—"
"No, I didn't see him at all today."
"But it's Valentine's Day."
"Oh, really? I hadn't noticed." Katie coughed.
"You sound awful."
"Don't change the subject, Nicole. You know something. I know you do."
Over the past two months Nicole had spent time with Rick's mom, working on designing the cafés' interiors. As a result, Nicole often knew more about what was going on with Rick than Katie did.
"Nicole, just tell me. Come on."
"Oh, Katie, I feel terrible!"
"You feel terrible? I'm the one who's sick here."
"I can't say anything. I really can't. I'm sorry."
A pause lingered between them before Katie's eyes widened and she lifted her head. "Tell me it's not a ring. Seriously, Nicole. Tell me Rick did not go out and buy me a ring." The cough started up again.
"Katie, I ..."
"An engagement ring?" Katie weakly propped herself up on one arm. "Did he go and buy me an engagement ring? You have to tell me, Nicole. Did he?"
Katie flopped back on the bed. "He bought me a ring, didn't he? I can't believe it. Why would he do that?"
"Katie, it's not ... you just ... oh, this is frustrating!"
"Tell me about it."
"Just wait until you see Rick. Everything will make sense then."
"Yeah, I could do that. Or you could tell me everything you know right now and spare me the suspense. You know how I hate surprises. Just tell me, Nicole. We can keep it as our little secret."
Even before Nicole answered, Katie knew her friend would never agree to such an alliance. Nicole was too pure of heart and too well trained in the ways of integrity. It bugged Katie, though, to realize that Nicole did have an alliance going in all this. Nicole shared a secret with Rick and his mom, which was something Katie couldn't say she had ever experienced.
"Truly, Katie, you'll be glad I didn't say anything. Just wait. Everything will make sense when you see Rick."
If Katie hadn't been feeling so awful, she would have pressed the conversation until she could squeeze at least a few clues out of Nicole. Instead, she gave up and hung up. Staring at the ceiling, she coughed again.
Rick Doyle, you were not planning to propose to me on Valentine's Day. I mean, seriously, Rick. Valentine's Day? What happened to us waiting until I graduate before we decide what's next? And what if I don't like the ring you picked out? Did you ever think of that? You probably bought some huge diamond, and I don't want—
Her cell phone rang. She thought the ring tone was the one she assigned to Nicole, so she answered with, "Changed your mind, did you? Talk quick and make it good because I'm dying here."
"Did you get it?" a male voice asked.
She held out the phone and saw by the ID that it was Rick's roommate, Eli. Katie had forgotten she changed his ring tone as well. She'd have to change it again. It was too close to Nicole's.
"Did you get it?" Eli repeated.
"Get what?" she replied flippantly. "The ring? Are you in on this too? Nicole wouldn't give me any details, so go ahead. Spill your guts. I promise I'll act surprised."
"I have no idea what you're talking about. I'm calling to see if you got the email from my dad with the Kenya update."
One of the things Katie appreciated about Eli was that little fazed him. His brushing right over her ring comments was typical of his steadfast temperament. If he did know details, he certainly wouldn't squeak a peep to Katie or anyone else if Rick had told him not to.
Over the past few months, Katie and Eli had been working on a fund-raiser for clean water in Africa. Eli's dad headed up the headquarters in Nairobi and kept Katie in the loop on how the funds were being distributed. During the correspondence among the three of them, Katie had come to appreciate Eli's straightforward approach. He was a lot like Rick in that respect. Except with Eli Katie didn't sense the same sort of aggressiveness that was stitched into the fiber of Rick's temperament.
"I haven't checked my email since this morning. I'm sick, Eli. I have the flu."
"What have you taken for it?"
"Nothing. Well, tea and extra vitamin C for a month, but I guess that wasn't enough."
"Is your throat sore?"
"Yes, Dr. Eli. I have all the usual symptoms. I need to get some sleep. Do I have to answer the email tonight, or can it wait until tomorrow?"
"You don't need to respond. It was good news. My dad was able to make the final arrangements for the wells in Sudan. We're not going to need to raise the extra funds. The drilling can begin next week."
"That is good news."
"I'll let you get some sleep."
"Yeah, sleep is good. My head feels like a bowling ball."
"Take care of yourself, Katie."
"I will." She closed her phone and closed her eyes.
Good ol' Eli. Nine months ago, when she first saw him at her best friend's wedding reception, Katie thought he was unusual and dubbed him "Goatee Guy." His intense stare unnerved her. Then Eli moved into Rick's apartment, and now she considered him one of her closest friends. She was going to miss him when he moved back to Kenya after graduation.
Eli grew up in Africa, where his parents were missionaries. In some ways Katie guessed he had never quite moved all of his heart to California when he came to Rancho Corona to finish up college. Part of him seemed always to be somewhere else. Off on safari, perhaps.
Katie pressed her open hand to her throat and tried to feel if it was swollen. She rolled onto her side in an effort to find a more comfortable position. Changing into pajamas would help with the comfort part, but she didn't want to get up.
I hate being sick.
Her phone rang again. This time it was Rick. In a soothing voice, he tried to coax her out to the parking lot to meet him so they could get something to eat. "I'll be on campus in five minutes, Katie. We'll go someplace that serves soup. Chicken soup. How would that be?"
"Rick, seriously, I ... am ... sick. Really."
"Then I'll come in to see you. It's open dorm tonight, right?"
"Rick, you'll be exposing yourself to someone who is a walking flu hive, buzzing with live, viral flu bees."
He laughed. "You can't be too sick if you're still funny."
"I'm not funny, Rick. I'm coughing, and I'm sneezing and ... well, I'm not sneezing yet, but I feel like sneezing."
"Katie, honey ..."
Rick had never called her "honey" before. At least not that she could remember. Was that his attempt to play off her comment on the flu hive?
He ignored her challenge on the term of endearment and pressed forward. "Listen, I don't care if you're sick. I want to see you anyway. I have something I want to give you, and I'm determined to give it to you tonight."
"Well, I have something I could give you, and I'm determined not to give it to you tonight. It's called two weeks out of commission, Rick. This is the worst possible time for you to—"
She almost said "to propose," but he interrupted. His voice was loud and firm. "Katie, I'm coming to see you. I'll be there in four minutes. Five at the most. Why don't you gargle or take some cough syrup or something? I'm coming to your room, so open a window and let all the bee germs out. Or whatever you called them. Viral bees. Whatever. I'm almost there now."
He hung up. Katie stared at her cell phone.
Open a window? Gargle? Did he really just say those things to me?
She couldn't move. Her fifty-pound head felt as if it had sunk permanently into her Little Mermaid pillowcase.
Rick, what are you doing? If you walk in here and ask me to marry you, you'll ruin everything.
Chapter TwoKatie had maneuvered through a variety of life challenges, but this dilemma had her baffled. If Rick stepped into her dorm room, got down on one knee, and held out a jeweler's box, what would she say? What would her truest, from-her-heart answer to him be?
She didn't know.
Since junior high Katie had dreamed of being with Rick. When he actually asked her out nearly a year and a half ago, Katie dared to believe her dream had come true. All she had ever wanted was to be Rick Doyle's girlfriend. Now that that dream had been fulfilled, marrying Rick was the next dream.
Only at this moment, with her head pounding, Katie didn't feel ready for that dream. They were supposed to wait until she finished college. That's what they had agreed. All she had left were twelve weeks of classes. Twelve jam-packed weeks, then her mind would be free to think about what was next and when and how and where she and Rick could get married.
She wasn't ready to think about any of that now. Last year she watched her roommate and best friend, Christy, navigate her final semester after she became engaged, and Katie knew she didn't want to put that sort of pressure on herself. Not with her demanding position as a resident assistant. Not with her class load this final semester. And especially not with this horrible, reality-bending flu pressing her down with unrelenting force.
Excerpted from Coming Attractions by Robin Jones Gunn Copyright © 2009 by Robin's Nest Productions, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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