Chapter 23

Children’s story time came to life during church the last weekend of July, launching the beginning of Pastor Jacob’s innovative youth series. I sat on the front pew as Gavin morphed Frank Hernandez and Sherry Saunders’ song, “Patience,” into an elaborate piece of drama. Exaggerating movements to match the words, Gavin stumbled all over the stage, bumping into the podium and pretending to trip over a little boy in front of him. The children roared with laughter. “There was a snail called Herbert who was so very S-L-O-W…. He caused a lot of traffic jams wherever he would go.” By the time Gavin got to the chorus the second time around, approximately two dozen kids chimed in at the top of their lungs. “Have patience, have patience, don’t be in such a hurry. When you get impatient, you only start to worry.” Mesmerized by his charm, I tuned back in as Gavin concluded. “Now kids—and parents in the audience, too—don’t ever forget, be patient with each other, because God is patient with you!”

Good thing, I smiled, because working with you has been a true test of my patience! I shook my head. Gavin was supposed to be taking classes out of state all summer, I poked at God. Now you have us working side by side. How did that come about?

Four weeks of youth-geared programming unfolded at a steady pace the following month: drama rehearsals, music practices, visiting local teen attendees at their homes. Gavin’s boldness and zest for life challenged me to up my game, and we quickly became a power team. Gavin would brainstorm compelling sermon titles, sharing grandiose ideas of how he wanted to see them come to life during the meetings, and I would blend music selections with the main topic, incorporating special drama segments to enhance the focus of each night. Our team prayed over every participant and possible attendee, then watched as God blessed our heart-felt attempts at ministering to our community. The summer became one to remember.

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

A beautiful orange sunset tucked itself beyond the horizon as I observed the pastured landscape roll by outside my window. Gavin drove in silence, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. “Can you believe it’s over already? What a blessing to have worked with all those kids!” I reminisced, breaking the quietness inside the car.

Gavin’s eyes remained on the road, his hands poised at ten and two while a soft smile defined his profile. “Three baptisms is a great outcome for the small group we had,” he agreed. “Sorry if I wasn’t always the easiest to work with. I know I had a lot of big ideas, and I didn’t always give you the proper amount of time to throw them all together, but you pulled them off.” He shot me a side-glance, smirking as I raised my eyebrows at him.

“You think you were difficult, huh?” I flaunted a cocky grin. “I’ve been putting up with you for a long time, Mister. This summer wasn’t anything new—you or your big ideas.”

Gavin chuckled, shrugging slightly. “Maybe so, but thanks for putting up with me anyway. I’m not sure how you do it, but you always have a way of taking my visions and turning them into reality.” He fiddled with the air conditioning on the dash, turning the temperature down a notch.

“We make a good team,” I admitted. “Lots of fun memories, that’s for sure.”

Gravel crunched beneath our slow-rolling tires as Gavin brought the car to a stop in the middle of his parents’ driveway. The sky had darkened and the moon shone bright. “We’re back!” he declared, cutting the engine. “I’ve officially delivered you to your destination in one piece.” He nodded to my car sitting on the other side of the driveway, releasing his keys from the ignition.

I chuckled. “That you have. Thank you for the ride. It was nice not having to drive today.”

Killing the headlights, Gavin reached across the console and placed his hand on mine. He then gently squeezed my fingers. “Hope, thanks for having my back this summer. The meetings flowed smoothly with your organizational skills keeping us on task. You have a real gift. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.” Moonlight etched his masculine silhouette, a faint whiff of cologne tantalizing my senses.

“Just doing my job,” I replied, looking Gavin in the eye. He stared back, unafraid to hold my gaze. The moment lingered, bringing with it a rush of old, familiar feelings and an instant barrage of confusion. Clearing my throat, I broke the tension. “I believe this is yours.” I lifted Gavin’s Bible from my lap and extended it to him.

“Ah, yes,” he smiled, accepting the leather-bound book. “Let me go put this in the house, then I’ll walk you to your car.” He reluctantly released my hand then flipped the switch near the door’s handle to unlock all the doors.

I glanced out the passenger-side window at my vehicle then back at Gavin. “I think I can manage to make it all the way to my car,” I laughed, “but I promise not to go anywhere till you get back.”

“Deal,” he grinned, patting my knee. “I’ll be back in a jiff.” Swinging his door open, he stepped out into the evening. I followed suit.

Walking to my car, I opened the back door and placed my purse and Bible on the back seat. One less thing to worry about, I mentally sized up the moment, closing the door. Returning to the front of the car, I leaned against the front fender, digging my hands into my red jean pockets. Staring down, I rolled a sandaled foot across some loose rocks in the driveway, listening to the outdoorsy response from my disturbance. In the moonlight, a wrinkle in my white cotton blouse stood out, so I loosened my hand from my right pocket and tugged on the crumpled material until it resembled less of a crease.

“You look fine just the way you are,” a sultry voice beckoned a few feet in front of me. Startled, I looked up to find Gavin already halfway down the drive. Other than a few chirping crickets and rustling leaves when a gentle breeze nudged the trees, stillness surrounded us.

A rush of heat warmed my cheeks. “I’m not so sure about that,” I chuckled. “This shirt looks like I’ve been through a war zone today.” Gavin stared at me, a curious glint in his eyes. “What? What’s so funny? Did I miss something?” I inspected my shirt again.

Gavin shook his head, taking a few steps closer until he was standing within arm’s reach. “You’re so beautiful,” he murmured. “Do you know that?” He slowly slid his hand down the length of my arm until his fingers were touching mine. Goosebumps skittered up my spine.

I watched his chest rise and fall in a steady rhythm, control and confidence exuding from him.

Studying his face in the moonlight, I struggled to make out his intentions. “I don’t understand what’s going on here. Are you going to clue me in?”

Gavin toyed with each of my fingers, ignoring my question. “How do you do that?” He focused on my lips. Gently stroking the side of my arm, he traced the outline of my face with his eyes.

“Do what?” I swallowed hard, noting the sudden dryness in my throat. “I’m not doing anything?”

“Exactly,” he answered. “You’re so innocent…and real.”

I held my breath, beginning to hear my pulse swoosh in my ears. Touching the side of my face, Gavin brushed a stray hair from my cheek, intentionally stepping into my personal space. “I’ve always been real.” I forced my voice to produce sound.

“Exactly.” His voice carried an essence of awe and admiration. “You are so beautiful, and you don’t even know it. Whatever did I do to deserve you in my life?” I tried searching his eyes, but they remained shrouded in darkness.

Starting to feel light-headed, I fumbled for words. “I don’t know, but I’m guessing God had something to do with it,” I rationalized. Gavin found another lock of hair to stroke behind my ear, allowing his hand to linger near my neck. I released a nervous chuckle, unsure how to interpret his touch. Unexplainable tenderness. Intensely personal emotions. Where are they coming from? And why now? I wondered. I licked my lips, suddenly aware of their dryness.

“If you don’t stop doing that, you’re going to make me want to kiss you,” Gavin warned, lowering his forehead to touch mine. The desire in his eyes nearly took my breath away.

“But I’m not doing anything,” I feebly muttered.

“That could do it.” His tongue slowly traveled over his lips, then his upper teeth rested on his lower lip.

“Then what do you suggest I do?” I whispered, raspiness encasing my words. I grimaced inside. What kind of question is that? He’s not thinking rationally; and, apparently, neither are you.

Gavin cradled my face in the palms of his hands and lifted my lips to meet his. “Nothing at all,” he answered. “May I?” He hovered a breath away, waiting for my answer.

“Mmhmm,” I consented.

Every ounce of tenderness and passion ignited between the two of us as his lips touched mine. I instinctively reached up and wrapped my fingers around his neck, welcoming him into a deeper kiss. Warm sensations washed over me, making my senses reel. How can this be happening? What happened to ‘just friends’? My logical mind fought to keep me from getting lost in the moment. He’s not ready for this. He hasn’t thought this out. I can’t let this turn into something we’ll both regret, no matter how long I’ve wanted this—him. I slid my hands onto his chest and gently pressed against him, forcing distance between us while fighting to regain my breath.

The sudden movement caused me to teeter, and I leaned back on my heels, hoping to compensate for the motion. Gavin grabbed for my elbow and steadied me against the wooziness. “You OK, there?” He eyed me closely.

“Yeah. Some kiss.” I tried using humor to disguise my embarrassment.

Gavin kissed my forehead as I leaned forward. Lifting my chin with his finger, he stared deep into my eyes. “I’ve wanted to do that for a very long time. Tonight’s not the first time I’ve wondered what it would feel like to kiss you.”

No words seemed appropriate, so I simply touched the side of his face, trying to memorize the moment. “I never imagined my summer ending like this,” I admitted. “This doesn’t seem real.” I couldn’t stop staring at his lips.

“You’re telling me.” He released a deep sigh, encircling my waist with his arms. “You’re not like other girls, and that’s a good thing. No words for it. You just do something to me.” I rested my forearms against his chest, leaning into another kiss—this one every bit as passionate and intense as the first one; but, reality hit again, and I wrestled inside Gavin’s embrace.

“No. Not like this,” I murmured. “This is too convenient. We’re not even dating.” I hated uttering the words, but I knew they needed to be said.

Leaning back on the fender of my car, I touched the throbbing heat on my lips. Gavin ran his fingers through his thick, dark hair, palming his mouth, as if doing so would dull his desire for me. “I’m so sorry, Hope. I know I shouldn’t have. Please forgive me.”

His reaction twisted my stomach into a knot, guilt gnawing at my spontaneity. Great! I’m already turning into a regret. That’s not what I wanted. The evening can’t end like this. It just can’t. I begged God for a better conclusion. “It’s OK. We’re OK,” I spoke, touching Gavin’s arm. “You told me not to wait around for you, though, remember?” I searched his eyes for understanding. “I’m not sure how we got from there to here, but I think there’s other stuff we need to figure out before this goes any further.” I hated being the voice of reason.

“You’re right,” Gavin nodded. “I hear you.”

“Do you? Because I’m not saying I don’t want this,” I emphasized, releasing a pent-up sigh. “God knows how long I’ve waited for you to make a move! But there needs to be some kind of order to this—whatever this is.”

Gavin continued nodding. “I couldn’t agree more. Baby steps,” he concurred.

“Yeah, baby steps,” I quietly echoed. I sensed a pending loss.

Gavin’s eyes flirted as he tried lightening the mood. “Maybe I should ask you on a date.”

“Maybe you should,” I smirked, “but until you do, don’t go beating yourself up for what just happened here tonight, OK?” I caressed his cheek, making him look me in the eye. “I’m not sorry for tonight, so no regrets.” I smiled, taking in a deep breath and releasing it slowly.

Gavin reached for my hand and linked his fingers with mine, staring at their unity for a moment. He then made eye contact with me again. “No regrets.”

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