Chapter 22

The first semester of my sophomore year in high school slipped off the calendar with barely a thought. Life had fallen into a predictable rhythm: classes, part-time job, choir trips. Go, go, go. Occasionally, I’d make time to attend a girls’ basketball game or help out with freshman tutoring sessions; but my overall schedule held time for little else. This particular afternoon proved no different.

Pulling into my student-assigned parking space, I stalled my standard Toyota. The seat jarred forward, the seatbelt took a death grip over my left shoulder, and I found myself plastered against the tan leather seat as the engine died. “I have really got to learn to master that clutch,” I mumbled under my breath. Glancing around the parking lot, it appeared I had been spared further embarrassment.

Unlatching my seatbelt, I attempted to open the car door. No such luck. Fidgeting with the handle. I shoved my weight against the side panel and yelled for the door to cooperate. “I don’t have time for this. Open up! I’m gonna be late for class.” As if listening, the door gave way, causing me to nose dive onto the pavement. “Seriously?” I groaned. “What did I do to deserve that?” Letting out a deep sigh, I pulled myself up on the door’s armrest and straightened my torso, stepping out of the car. Turning to retrieve my books from the passenger seat, a strong gust of wind shoved the driver-side door into my rear end, causing me to tumble forward over the gearshift. I temporarily lost my breath, but gained my wits enough to expel my contempt. “Oh-h-h…can this day get any better?”

Pushing myself back to a standing position, I dragged my book bag over the center console, flung it over my shoulder, and nudged the door shut with my foot. As luck would have it, my black slacks decided to cling to my legs like a two-year-old begging for ice cream, awkwardly wrapping themselves around my ankles and refusing to loosen their hold. “Really?” I mocked the universe. “Static cling, too?” Dropping my bag to the ground, I tugged at the uncooperative material until the static electricity gave way. “This isn’t funny!” I blurted out to no one in particular.

Bending over to retrieve my bag, a catcall beckoned from behind me. “Yeah, whatever,” I mumbled, ignoring the derogatory attempt for attention. Hoisting the books over my shoulder once again, I headed for my first class of the afternoon, struggling to regain my composure.

A few feet from the car, another whistle echoed off the school buildings. “Seriously, get a life!” I muttered. My frustration increased as the sound got closer.

“Hope, wait up!” The familiarity of my name and feet pounding the pavement caused me to stop.

Whirling about, I started to protest. “What…?” Gavin’s smiling face and twinkling eyes threw me for a loop. My mouth dropped open. “Gavin? Oh, my goodness! What are you doing here?” I dropped my belongings and reached up to touch the dimple on his cheek. I half expected him to be a figment of my imagination.

“Hey, Babe! Yes, it’s really me. How are you? Didn’t you hear me calling you back there?” He waved at all the cars behind him. “I had to sprint halfway across the parking lot to catch up with you. You sure are quick!” He breathed deeply, winded from the chase.

The intimate name-calling caught me off guard. “No…well, yes. Was that you whistling at me just now?” I struggled to fit all the pieces together.

Gavin’s face beamed, his eyes dancing. “Of course, it was me. Who else would be whistling at you? Is there some guy I don’t know about?” His dimples sunk deeper into his cheeks as he stared into my eyes.

“No, nothing like that,” I staved off the absurd. “I just thought you were a typical guy being a chauvinistic pig, so I ignored you.”

Gavin chuckled at the bluntness. “Ouch! I deserve that.” Tilting his head to the side, he made puppy dog eyes and opened his arms to receive me. “Do I at least get a hug?”

I grinned and shrugged. “Why not!” Walking into his embrace, a part of me melted. Something about you has always felt like home, I sighed.

Holding me at arm’s length, Gavin let another whistle slide. “Good grief, Woman! What have you been doing with yourself these past few months? I almost didn’t recognize you, Miss Hot Stuff!”

I rolled my eyes, rejecting the compliment. “Yeah, I’m sure I’m quite the sight—falling out of my car and all. Just wrap me in bubble wrap and call me Grace,” I chuckled.

“I’m afraid I missed that one, but I’m sure it was quite a show,” he winked.
“When’s the next viewing?”

I wrinkled my nose and nudged him in the arm. “You don’t take anything seriously, do you?”

Flirting brought a special twinkle to his eyes. “I take you seriously.”

Heat warmed my cheeks. “Yeah, I’m sure you do,” I returned his smile.

Dark. Rugged. Handsome. Gavin’s tight-fitted jeans, casual blue t-shirt, dark leather boots, and hint of stubble across his jaw transformed him into quite a distinguished-looking man. “Very mature look on you,” I complimented, touching his chin for reference.

“Oh, this silly thing?” He scratched at his five o’clock shadow and laughed. “Yeah, I’ve just been too lazy to shave today. I’m down here till Monday on home leave, so figured, why bother?”

I shook my head. “Such a guy! Well, whatever the reason, it works for ya.”

Gavin hooked his thumbs on his belt loops and smiled. “I didn’t realize how much I missed you until I saw you getting out of your car a few minutes ago.” A serious overtone shifted his mood.

“Hey! I thought you said you didn’t see me arrive.” I tried keeping the spirit of the moment casual.

“I might have fudged that part just a little bit,” he confessed, raising his eyebrows. “You’re just so darn cute when you get flustered, and I didn’t want you gettin’ all embarrassed over such a silly little thing. It’s just me,” he downplayed the incident.

“Yeah, you—whom I haven’t heard from since you left for school almost four months ago,” I jabbed. “I can tell how much you miss me. No letter. No post card. Nada. I see how I rate.”

He stuck out his lower lip in a pretend pout. “Forgive me? I promise to do better.” His dark brown eyes pleaded for a second chance.

“Oh, stop saying things you know you don’t mean,” I joshed. “We both know it’ll be another three months or more before you even think about picking up a phone.”

“I don’t know if it’ll be that long….” Gavin started to defend himself, but the first warning for afternoon classes cut him short. “Saved by the bell.” He feigned relief.

“You’re just lucky,” I answered, swinging my bag back onto my shoulder. “You know I’m right, but there’s no time to debate that now. Sadly, I have school responsibilities and have to get to class. Was really nice getting to see you though. Thanks for flagging me down—or whatever you want to call it. I hope you enjoy the rest of your semester.”

“Maybe I’ll give you a call later before I head back on Monday, if that’s all right by you.” He stared at me, looking for approval.

“I won’t hold my breath,” I dismissed his offer. “You forget. I know you.”

He nodded, accepting defeat. “I deserve that, too. You know me too well—but, you also forget, Christmas is coming. I’ll be back in town for the holidays. If not now, then?”

I felt a knowing smile spread across my face. “Look me up next time you’re in town. You know where to find me.” I patted his forearm for emphasis.

“Yes, I do,” he laughed, watching me walk away. “I won’t forget.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” I called over my shoulder.

“Fair enough.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

“So, let me get this straight. You’re telling me that Gavin told you to get on with your life and forget him, and then, a few months later, comes back into town and treats you like his long-lost girlfriend?” The puzzled look on Greg’s face mimicked the same bemused feelings I had experienced that afternoon my sophomore year.

I nodded with humor. “Yep, that’s what I’m sayin’. Confusing, right?” I smiled as Greg tried making sense of it all.

“I’d say.” He shook his head as if dispelling the craziness. “Talk about sending mixed messages! I’m sure you didn’t know what to believe.”

I chuckled and shook my head. “I didn’t.”

Greg smiled. “Go on.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Halfway through the summer preceding my junior year of high school, I received a phone call from Gavin’s father, Pastor Jacobs. “Hey, Hope, how are you doing?” His cheery voice held genuine interest.

“I’ve been better, but can’t really complain. To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?” I answered, redirecting his focus.

Pastor Jacobs jumped right in. “I’m calling because I have this crazy idea—a brainchild of sorts, I guess one could say. And as I’ve been mulling over all the possibilities on how to make this work, I thought of you. You’d be the perfect fit. Are you interested in hearing more?”

I chuckled, humoring his bait. “I’m game. How do I play into this idea of yours?”

Pastor Jacobs unleashed one of his jovial belly laughs. “That’s my girl. Let me tell ya what I’m thinkin’.” He drew in a deep breath, giving him a moment to collect his thoughts. “Recently, while spending time with God during my morning devotions, I had a burden placed upon my heart.”

“Oh?” Intrigued, I waited to hear more.

“Yeah. For the longest time, I’ve had a real desire to reach the young people in our church. They need something that will make Jesus real—something that’s geared just for them. Know what I mean?”

“I’m following you so far,” I affirmed.

“It was while I was praying and listening for God to respond that I came up with the idea of having a youth evangelism series at our church—for kids, by kids. I’d like for you to lead out—be a part of all the planning and help create a way for us to reach the young adults in our congregations, as well as those in the community.” Eagerness elevated his excitement.

“You want me to lead out?” I echoed. “That’s a lot of responsibility. I don’t know if I’m really qualified for this kind of project. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m sure there are better candidates.”

“Oh, but you’re more than capable! God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called,” Pastor Jacobs encouraged. “Besides, you wouldn’t be alone. You’d be on a team of teen leaders working with our pastoral staff at the church. The evening programs would consist of special music and a nightly skit, plus a sermonette based on the chosen Bible theme each night. We want the youth to know that they can have a real relationship with Christ. What do ya think?”

“Well, it sounds different—in a good way. When would these meetings start?” I still couldn’t see where I fit in.

“In about four weeks,” he answered, “and it’d run for two.”

“Two days?” That didn’t seem very long.

“No, weeks,” he clarified. “We’d like to see this take place before the start of the new school year.”

“Wow! That’s ambitious of you,” I complimented his drive. “You really think a team of us could pull this off in such a short amount of time?”

“I know you can. Just say ‘Yes,’ and God will do the rest.” I could almost see his smile through the phone line.

I chuckled again. “Let me pray about it and make sure I don’t have anything else on my calendar. I must say, I appreciate your belief in me and coming to me with this idea, no matter what my decision ends up being. It really means a lot.”

“You got it, Girl. Just let me know what you decide. I’d love having you on board.”

Pastor Jacobs’ proverbial pat on the back caused me to grin. “Absolutely. I’ll give you an answer by the end of the week.”

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