Kay’s Story (Part Twenty-One)

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Right after the service ended, Jeff disappeared into the men’s room to change his clothes for the picnic. Even though he had been unsure of the formality of the church setting, he had the good sense to know that suits plus grass and ketchup usually don’t mix well.

Kay paced as she waited for him in the overflow hall, bouncing Destiny gently with each step. She was dying to ask him what had happened during the prayer time, but something inside told her to let Jeff initiate the topic. He was visibly moved when he had returned to his seat and she couldn’t help wonder what he was thinking. Whatever it was, it seemed to be good.

She thought about how very little she really knew about Jeff. Maybe this picnic would be a good chance to get to know him a little better.

The door to the restroom swung open with a squeak and Jeff appeared, looking much more comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt.

“Hey, there you are. Jeff, would you mind holding Destiny while I grab my cooler from the car?”

“Not at all.” Jeff reached out and took the baby in his arms, both pleased and terrified at the same time. His big hands dwarfed her little frame, yet he cradled her as if she was made of glass.

“She won’t break, y’know.” Kay smiled encouragingly at him and started for her vehicle.

A few minutes later, the cooler was unpacked, the picnic blanket spread and Jeff was sitting with a happy Destiny cooing on his lap.

The sun was shining down with all its summer glory and a gentle breeze kept it from getting overwhelmingly hot. Kay spun in a slow circle before collapsing contentedly next to them on the checkered blanket. “Ahh, it is just the perfect day! Thanks for holding my little punkin’.” She took Destiny back into her arms and reached for her bottle. “Jeff, just so you know, the burgers and hot dogs are over in the tent towards the back of the church. Each family was supposed to bring their own chips, soda, dessert and such, but the main course is provided. I don’t think the first batch is quite ready yet, but if you want to meet some of the guys, they’ll be hanging out by the grills.”

“Hey, you trying to get rid of me already?” Jeff twisted his face into a playful pout. Kay mock hit his shoulder and made a shooing motion with her free hand. “You bet I am! Skedaddle, mister! I can’t help you meet people if I hog your free nanny services all day.”

Jeff flashed her a grin as he stood. “So, seeing I’ll be over there anyway, what do you eat? Burgers or dogs? Please tell me you aren’t one of those tofu girls…”

Kay snorted. “Tofu? I don’t think so. Give me a dead cow smothered in salty tomato goodness any day!”

“So… does that translate into a burger?”

“Heh, it translates into whatever form of meat is done cooking first. I’m not picky. I’m a true carnivore. Thanks for offering to grab it.”

Kay watched Jeff walk away and sent up a silent prayer that somehow he would connect with the guys. He just seems so different from any other man I’ve ever known… not that I’ve known many well… Kay began mentally ticking off a list of males in her life. Dad, Uncle Mich, Cousin Freddy, Grandpa… Yup, that pretty much sums it up.

Her thought process was suddenly interrupted by a super bubbly female voice.

“Kay! Where DID you find that hunk? So, are you claiming first dibs or is he fair game?” Cassy, the owner of the voice, melodramatically batted her eyes.

Usually, Kay was able to tolerate Cassy fairly well, but suddenly her Barbie doll looks and “Gossip Girl” persona were almost completely unbearable. She gritted her teeth and forced a laugh. “Seriously, Cassy! He’s almost a total stranger, you know nothing about him, and besides, he isn’t some purse to be fought over at a store. He’s a human being with a personality and the ability to choose himself. Maybe he doesn’t WANT a girlfriend!”

Cassy tilted her head to the side, looking confused for a moment. “Wait a second. You’re trying to tell me that he’s gay, aren’t you?” She sighed, her glossy bottom lip protruding in a babydoll pout. “I shoulda known… all the really cute ones are.”

Kay sputtered on her sip of rootbeer, soda fizzing out of her nose in a most unbecoming manner. “NO! I didn’t say he was gay! Cassy!” She dissolved into giggles, the indignant look on Cassy’s face only making it funnier.

Just then, Jeff reappeared, with a plate in each hand. “What’s so funny? Did I miss a joke?” Cassy opened her mouth to respond, but Kay waved her hand to silence her. “Don’t ask, Jeff, just don’t ask.” Kay tried to stifle her amusement, taking the plate from his hand. “Potato chips? Soda?”

At this point, Cassy seemed to recover and tried to make her move. She smiled coyly and held out a daintily manicured hand. “Hi, Jeff. I’m Cassy and Kay and I are just the BEST friends. I’m sure she’s told you ALL about me already. Oh, oh dear. Potato chips? Kay, darling, do you know how unhealthy those are? Not to mention fattening?” She deftly looped her arm around Jeff’s and began to steer him away. “Come with me, Jeffy. I have these organic sun-dried banana chips that are absolutely divine.” She blinked up at him. “I don’t usually share my favorite foods, but for you, I think I’ll have to make an exception.”

 

To be continued…

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Kay’s Story (Jeff’s Turn) (Part Twenty)

Stop! This is the twentieth episode!

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Jeff didn’t know quite what to expect when Kay invited him to this traditional looking little church. He’d dressed in his spiffy “Sunday best” and mentally rehearsed all the right churchy things to say. Now, looking at Kay, he realized she was dressed for a normal day out. His collar seemed to be getting tighter by the second and his coat might as well have been a straitjacket for all the mobility it gave him.

“Kay, wow, you look… beautiful as always.” He fidgeted with his tie and whispered hoarsely, “I’m totally overdressed, aren’t I?”

She looked up at him, with a reassuring smile. “You look dashing. It is a little more formal than what most folks wear, but that’s okay. I probably look like a total wreck, compared to you. It was a long night with the baby.”

“No, Kay, you seriously look great. Can I carry something for you?”

He swung a pink diaper bag over his shoulder, took a deep breath, and stepped through the large wooden doors. He fully expected whispers and stares, most likely accompanied by organ music. Instead, he was immediately ambushed by a couple just inside the door. The man, who looked to be in his 70s at the youngest, gripped his hand enthusiastically. A woman, apparently his wife, was not to be outdone. As soon as Jeff got his hand free, he found himself in the midst of a grandmotherly hug. Jeff tentatively returned their greeting and introduced himself. Bulletin now in hand, he shot a questioning glance at Kay. “Where do we sit?” His eyes scanned the room. He realized with relief that his clothes didn’t matter. The dress code varied from person to person. Every look was represented, from ripped jeans and multiple piercings to immaculate dresses and perfectly coiffed hair.

Kay laughed at the expression of shock lingering on his face and pointed to a row towards the middle of the sanctuary. “Our church is one big family. You’ll have to get used to lots of hugs, if you stick around. Oh! There’s Pastors Zack and Emily! C’mon Jeff, you’ve gotta meet my second parents.”

Without thinking, Kay latched onto his hand with her free arm and hauled him forward. The pleasant warmness of her small hand around his distracted him enough that he missed the beginning of the introductions. He came to himself just in time to catch the tail end of Pastor Zack asking him something about motorcycles. Jeff felt his neck burn as he tried to piece together whatever it was the Pastor had said. “I don’t think I’ve ever hear a Pastor talk about bikes before. You have one, Pastor, uh, sir? A motorcycle, I mean?” Pastor Zack laughed sheepishly. “Well, I did at one time. I found it became a bit of a distraction for me, though. Then, God got my attention in a funny way one day… I’ll have to tell you about it sometime.” Pastor Emily smiled. “Jeff, I hate to interrupt, but I’ve got to get up front and start the service. We’re so glad you are with us today!” Pastor Zack slapped him on the back. “You come and find me during the picnic and I’ll tell you that story, okay son? Just follow your nose. I’ll be flippin’ the burgers.” “Yes sir, I’ll be looking forward to it.”

Jeff and Kay made their way back to a seat just as Pastor Emily reached the pulpit. It took a few tries at “Good morning and amen” before the congregation got the hint and started to quiet down.

After announcements, the Pastors asked all the visitors to stand. To Jeff’s surprise, he was not the only newbie in the house. At least ten other people stood, each of them looking almost as dazed by all the attention as he felt. Their status as visitors was marked by the crowd with loud cheers and clapping, more reminiscent of fans at a homefield football team than participants in a solemn ecclesial service.

The music was a far cry from the hymns and robed choir of Jeff’s hometown. This choir had electric guitars and a drum set and a lead singer with a spiky hair. That would have been shocking enough by itself, but even more bewildering was the fact that the ages of the church varied so much. Happy toddlers scurried about and elderly folks grooved with one hand on a walker and the other raised high in the air.  The emotions on people’s faces seemed so intense, so genuine. Even Kay was glowing, her eyes closed and her lips moving to the words of the song. Jeff had never seen anything quite like this simplicity of just singing your feelings to God. One thing was for sure, nobody could call this church boring or traditional!

But what hit Jeff the hardest was the message that followed. It wasn’t given my either of the pastors. Instead, a young man stood and told his life’s story. It wasn’t some pretty picture perfect tale, either. He bared his heart, sharing the pain of a childhood of abuse and divorced parents, bullies in school and lingering issues of shattered self confidence. As he spoke of finding God, he didn’t end with a plastic finish. He admitted that while he had come far, his life was still a daily process of growth. In closing, held up a square of paper, inscribed with a single Greek word: koinonia. Intimate, dirty, detailed, real. This was the definition of what church relationships should look like, he emphasized. “Christians shouldn’t be afraid to look brokenness in the face. We must be unhindered by masks- free to help each other without reserve and artifice.” As he handed the microphone back to the pastors, he looked shy for the first time that morning. It was as if he’d been given some special boldness, just when he needed it.

The pastor invited anyone who wanted prayer to go up to the front. Jeff wanted to go, he really did. He felt a strange longing in his heart, a sense of something calling him forward. Out of the corner of his eye, he snuck a peek at Kay. She looked suspiciously as if she was trying purposefully not to look at him. Jeff wondered what she would think if he went up. He hoped she wouldn’t think he was trying to impress her, because it really wasn’t that. He hesitated, and then stood, his heart pounding in his ears. Slowly, he made his way forward. Without knowing why, Jeff suddenly felt that this day might just be the most important one of his life.

To be continued…

Kay’s Story (Part Nineteen)

 

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Kay awoke with a start. She stretched carefully, stirring from the rocking chair where she had fallen asleep feeding Destiny in the night. A thought skittered elusively in her consciousness, and she strained against the sleepiness to grasp it. Something important about today… what day is it?

She bolded upright, jarring the sleeping baby on her chest. Sunday? It’s Sunday! The picnic and Jeff and… and… I have to get dressed! What time is it?

Destiny’s fussing got louder as Kay placed her in the crib and turned toward the clock. Nine thirty already?

Kay groaned and glanced down at herself. She hadn’t even changed out of yesterday’s clothes, which were decorated with spilled formula and baby spitup Nice. I smell like sour mile and a shower will take too long. Perfect for a first date. She stumbled over that thought. It had just popped into her mind unbidden. Was that what this was, a date? No, surely not.

She yanked off her clothes, heaping them on the floor. Destiny let out a particularly demanding squawk, remind her in no uncertain terms that she was hungry again and probably need a changing too. She sprinted into the bathroom, grabbing a wet facecloth in one hand and a diaper in the other.

Juggling was her newest found talent; no one had ever told her it was a requirement for motherhood. A dry bottom placated her lovable tiny dictator enough that the screams were now whimpers mixed with coos. Kay tested formula on her wrist, noting that it was still too cold. She ran the towel over all the stinkiest spots on her anatomy, giving herself a passing sniff test. It’ll have to do. At least her outfit was all laid out from the day before, along with a cute pink dress for Destiny. Wiggling into her jeans, she dripped some more formula onto her wrist. Just right.

“Okay, Princess Pea, one yummy bottle, made to order. Then, you get to wear your new dress. I know, I know, you don’t care about those things, do you, Sweety? you will, soon enough.”

Kay had never understood her own mother’s remarks about how fast children grew, until now. Every day seemed to go by faster than the one before. She pictured Destiny older, going off on her first day of school… having her first crush… “Mommy is silly, you know that, Little Dee?”

The baby’s suckling noises almost sounded like a grunt of agreement. Kay threw back her head and laughed. Setting the bottle aside, she burped the baby with an expert hand. “Okay, Punkin’. Into your pretty dress you go.”

Kay rushed down the steps, baby and gear in hand. As she maneuvered, the VW into an empty space, she realized just how nervous she was. The familiar buckle on the carseat suddenly wouldn’t cooperate with her trembling fingers.  What if he doesn’t come? What if-

 Kay took a deep breath and tried to reason with herself.  It doesn’t matter. I’m not doing this because of some stupid flutters in my stomach. It isn’t like a date. I’m just trying help him acclimate. It’s the Christian thing to do. She backed out of the car, shut the door and turned. Movement in the red pickup truck next to her caught her eye. It was Jeff. He rolled down his window.

“Hey there. Some spunky girl asked me to a church picnic today. You wouldn’t have happened to see her wandering around somewhere, would you?”

A silly grin spread across Kay’s face. In that moment, her logical list melted into a meaningless mental pool. Then, Jeff stepped out of the struck, resplendent in a suit and tie, freshly shaved and his hair slicked back. I have a feeling this will be a memorable service. Kay unconsciously brushed her hair back with her fingers, feeling a bit of unidentified something matting it together. Her dark-wash denim pants, which had seemed so perfect only the day before suddenly felt painfully plain.

Kay’s Story (Part Sixteen)

Stop! This is the sixteenth episode!

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Kay looked up as the rattling sound of a shopping cart filled the early morning air. Every little noise seemed louder with a sleeping baby to think of. The night before had been absolutely exhausting. Destiny woke up screaming on the hour and refused to be comforted.

Now, she was fast asleep, looking like a tiny angel. What was somebody doing with a shopping cart this far from the store anyway?

She stood and peered out the window, feeling slightly annoyed. A lone figure hobbled down the sidewalk, pushing a cart piled high with random trash and disheveled belongings. It was Bonnie, the local equivalent to a bag lady. Though she looked much older, she couldn’t be more than forty years old. The church had tried putting her in housing, but time after time, she’d hit the streets again. Sometimes she would talk someone into driving her to the nearest bus station and she would disappear for months only to mysteriously return.  The wanderer came to a sudden stop directly below Kay’s perch. I hope she doesn’t park herself in the entryway. That’s the last thing I need.

Slowly, the woman’s gaze scanned upward, coming to rest on the face peering down from above. Kay flushed and jerked back, pulling the curtains shut.

Instantly, shame washed over her. Lord, I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but people like her just make me so uncomfortable! Help me to see beyond the outside. Kay scolded herself as she reached for her coffee and drained the dregs, before slipping it into the sink. Sighing, her thoughts shifted abruptly towards the day ahead.

Thankfully, Destiny was dressed in a cute sleeper that looked fine for going out in. Changing a sleeping baby wouldn’t be fun. Brain had compromised on her schedule, saying that she could bring Destiny with her, two days a week. The only stipulation was that it could not affect her productivity or her attentiveness to customers. Pausing in front of the mirror, she ran her fingers through her hair, mussing it into a semblance of style. A swipe of blush brought some color to her pale face and a bit of concealer hid the dark circles under her eyes. Ever so carefully, she transferred the baby into her carrier, grabbed the bulging diaper bag and started down the stairs.

To be continued…

Kay’s Story (Part Fifteen)

Stop! This is the fifteenth episode!

Looking for the beginning of Kay’s Story?

I’m going to be a mother!

This statement of realization is usually followed by another eight or so months of pregnancy for most women. For Kay, it was her giddy chant as she made her way down the steps of the courthouse. She practically skipped all the way to her car.

The process wasn’t completely over yet, there was still a six month trial period before the adoption could be finalized. But today was the beginning! Today, Destiny Marie was coming home!

At the hospital, Makayla greeted her with a warm embrace. “I knew you could win this! Congratulations. I know you will be a wonderful mother to little Destiny. Here are the release papers. The doctor signed them earlier. You can take your baby home, Miss Kay!” Together, they bundled the baby into her shiny new carrier.

Makayla leaned forward and kissed Destiny’s forehead softly. “You get your happily ever after, Child. It’s about time somebody did.” She straightened up and faced the proud new mother. “Kay, you two come visit me sometime, you hear?” She brushed a happy tear from her face and grinned. “Get outta here, Girl. What are you waitin’ for? You’ve spent more time in here than any healthy person should.”

Kay laughed, scooped up the carrier and started down the hall. “That is for certain. Bye, Makayla! Thanks for everything.”

As she buckled the car seat into her car, tears suddenly sprang to her eyes. “God, thank you for this baby you’ve given me.” She prayed out loud during the short drive home, listening in wonderment to the incredible sound of contented cooing coming from behind her.

 To be continued…