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Chapter 10

I drove Jamie home from the orphanage later that night. At first I wasn’t sure whether I should pull the old yawn move and put my arm around her shoulder, but to be honest, I didn’t know exactly how she was feeling about me. Granted, she’d given me the most wonderful gift I’d ever received, and even though I’d probably never open it and read it like she did, I knew it was like giving a piece of herself away. But Jamie was the type of person who would donate a kidney to a stranger she met walking down the street, if he really needed one. So I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it.

Jamie had told me once that she wasn’t a dimwit, and I guess I finally came to the conclusion that she wasn’t. She may have been . . . well, different . . .  but she’d figured out what I’d done for the orphans, and looking back, I think she knew even as we were sitting on the floor of her living room. When she’d called it a miracle, I guess she was talking specifically about me.  Hegbert, I remembered, came into the room as Jamie and I were talking about it, but he really didn’t have much to say. Old Hegbert hadn’t been himself lately, at least as far as I could tell. Oh, his sermons were still on the money, and he still talked about the fornicators, but lately his sermons were shorter than usual, and occasionally he’d pause right in the middle of one and this strange look would come over him, kind of like he was thinking of something else, something sad.

I didn’t know what to make of it, being that I really didn’t know him that well.

And Jamie, when she talked about him, seemed to describe someone else entirely.  I could no more imagine Hegbert with a sense of humor than I could imagine two moons in the sky.

So anyway, he came into the room while we counted the money, and Jamie stood up with those tears in her eyes, and Hegbert didn’t even seem to realize I was there. He told her that he was proud of her and that he loved her, but then he shuffled back to the kitchen to continue working on his sermon. He didn’t even say hello. Now, I knew I hadn’t exactly been the most spiritual kid in the congregation, but I still found his behavior sort of odd.  As I was thinking about Hegbert, I glanced at Jamie sitting beside me. She was looking out the window with a peaceful look on her face, kind of smiling, but far away at the same time. I smiled. Maybe she was thinking about me. My hand started scooting across the seat closer to hers, but before I reached it, Jamie broke the silence.

“Landon,” she finally asked as she turned toward me, “do you ever think about God?”

I pulled my hand back.

Now, when I thought about God, I usually pictured him like those old paintings I’d seen in churches-a giant hovering over the landscape, wearing a white robe, with long flowing hair, pointing his finger or something like that-but I knew she wasn’t talking about that. She was talking about the Lord’s plan. It took a moment for me to answer.

“Sure,” I said. “Sometimes, I reckon.”

“Do you ever wonder why things have to turn out the way they do?”

I nodded uncertainly.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.”

Even more than usual? I wanted to ask, but I didn’t. I could tell she had more to say, and I stayed quiet.

“I know the Lord has a plan for us all, but sometimes, I just don’t understand what the message can be. Does that ever happen to you?” She said this as though it were something I thought about all the time.  “Well,” I said, trying to bluff, “I don’t think that we’re meant to understand it all the time. I think that sometimes we just have to have faith.” It was a pretty good answer, I admit. I guess that my feelings for Jamie were making my brain work a little faster than usual. I could tell she was thinking about my answer.

“Yes,” she finally said, “you’re right.”

I smiled to myself and changed the subject, since talking about God wasn’t the sort of thing that made a person feel romantic.

“You know,” I said casually, “it sure was nice tonight when we were sitting by the tree earlier.”

“Yes, it was,” she said. Her mind was still elsewhere.

“And you sure looked nice, too.”

“Thank you.”

This wasn’t working too well.

“Can I ask you a question?” I finally said, in the hopes of bringing her back to me.

“Sure,” she said.

I took a deep breath.

“After church tomorrow, and, well . . . after you’ve spent some time with your father . . . I mean . . .” I paused and looked at her. “Would you mind coming over to my house for Christmas dinner?”

Even though her face was still turned toward the window, I could see the faint outlines of a smile as soon as I’d said it.

“Yes, Landon, I would like that very much.”

I sighed with relief, not believing I’d actually asked her and still wondering how all this had happened. I drove down streets where windows were decorated with Christmas lights, and through the Beaufort City Square. A couple of minutes later when I reached across the seat, I finally took hold of her hand, and to complete the perfect evening, she didn’t pull it away.  When we pulled up in front of her house, the lights in the living room were still on and I could see Hegbert behind the curtains. I supposed he was waiting up because he wanted to hear how the evening went at the orphanage. Either that, or he wanted to make sure I didn’t kiss his daughter on the doorstep. I knew he’d frown on that sort of thing.

I was thinking about that-what to do when we finally said good-bye, I mean-when we got out of the car and started toward the door. Jamie was quiet and content at the same time, and I think she was happy that I’d asked her to come over the next day. Since she’d been smart enough to figure out what I’d done for the orphans, I figured that maybe she’d been smart enough to figure out the homecoming situation as well. In her mind, I think even she realized that this was the first time I’d actually asked her to join me of my own volition.  Just as we got to her steps, I saw Hegbert peek out from behind the curtains and pull his face back. With some parents, like Angela’s, for instance, that meant they knew you were home and you had about another minute or so before they’d open the door. Usually that gave you both time to sort of bat your eyes at each other while each of you worked up the nerve to actually kiss. It usually took about that long.

Now I didn’t know if Jamie would kiss me; in fact, I actually doubted that she would. But with her looking so pretty, with her hair down and all, and everything that had happened tonight, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity if it came up. I could feel the little butterflies already starting to form in my stomach when Hegbert opened the door.

“I heard you pull up,” he said quietly. His skin was that sallow color, as usual, but he looked tired.

“Hello, Reverend Sullivan,” I said dejectedly.

“Hi, Daddy,” Jamie said happily a second later. “I wish you could have come tonight. It was wonderful.”

“I’m so glad for you.” He seemed to gather himself then and cleared his throat.

“I’ll give you a bit to say good night. I’ll leave the door open for you.” He turned around and went back into the living room. From where he sat down, I knew he could still see us. He pretended to be reading, though I couldn’t see what was in his hands.

“I had a wonderful time tonight, Landon,” Jamie said.  “So did I,” I answered, feeling Hegbert’s eyes on me. I wondered if he knew I’d been holding her hand during the car ride home.

“What time should I come over tomorrow?” she asked.

Hegbert’s eyebrow raised just a little.

“I’ll come over to get you. Is five o’clock okay?”

She looked over her shoulder. “Daddy, would you mind if I visited with Landon and his parents tomorrow?”

Hegbert brought his hand to his eyes and started rubbing them. He sighed.

“If it’s important to you, you can,” he said.

Not the most stirring vote of confidence I’d ever heard, but it was good enough for me.

“What should I bring?” she asked. In the South it was tradition to always ask that question.

“You don’t need to bring anything,” I answered. “I’ll pick you up at a quarter to five.”

We stood there for a moment without saying anything else, and I could tell Hegbert was growing a little impatient. He hadn’t turned a page of the book since we’d been standing there.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said finally.

“Okay,” I said.

She glanced down at her feet for a moment, then back up at me. “Thank you for driving me home,” she said.

With that, she turned around and walked inside. I could barely see the slight smile playing gently across her lips as she peeked around the door, just as it was about to close.

The next day I picked her up right on schedule and was pleased to see that her hair was down once more. She was wearing the sweater I’d given her, just like she’d promised.

Both my mom and dad were a little surprised when I............

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