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Authors: Robin Jones Gunn

Echoes (6 page)

BOOK: Echoes
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A stab of familiar pain accompanied the thought. Abandonment. Rejection. Failure. The hurt dug down so deep within her heart all she knew to do was to shut it out. And she knew how to do that quite well.

Brad worked feverishly, making a few phone calls, tapping away at the keyboard, and plugging in the well-used printer. Lauren cleaned up the kitchen and thought about how useful this computer was going to be. She wouldn’t have to use her ancient word processor to type her papers if, or should she say
when, she went back to school.

“Voila!”
Brad suddenly announced. “Get ready to ride the info highway, Wren, baby! And be sure to fasten your seat belt, because this highway ain’t paved.”

Chapter Five

O
kay, Lauren, come here and let your little bro teach you a thing or two,” Brad said.

Lauren stood behind him at the computer and watched the screen suddenly go blank.

“You were saying?”

“Okay, okay. So I don’t have all the bugs worked out yet. Give me a minute or two.” He turned and glared at her with mock annoyance. “Don’t you have anything better to do than stand over my shoulder all day nagging me? Go get a life, you pathetic woman!”

For some reason, his teasing hit a nerve, and Lauren started to feel the room closing in on her. In a small voice she answered, “I don’t have a life.” The glass of milk in her hand began to quiver.

“I was only kidding,” Brad said, trying to read her expression. “It’s not your fault that jerk dumped you.”

A numb feeling began to invade Lauren’s brain.

“You’re better off without him.”

“Yeah,” Lauren said aimlessly. She imagined Jeff boarding the airplane right now, leaving her forever.

“Hey, you don’t look so good,” Brad said.

“No,” Lauren said, a haze of insecurity settling over her. “I don’t suppose I do.” A gurgle bubbled up in her throat. A swallowing of tears and an attempt at laughter combined into one indefinable sound.

“I think you’re starting to lose it, Wren. Maybe you should go to bed. Take a little nap. Get your head clear.” Brad stood up and cautiously approached her. “Come on, lady,” he teased. “Put the glass of milk down nice and easy, and nobody gets hurt.”

Lauren fell into a crazy laughter mixed with tears and put down her glass of milk.

“That’s right,” Brad coaxed. “Come with me. Back to bed. A little nap is in store for you, missy.”

“But I’m not tired,” Lauren protested as Brad led her to her room.

“Right. You’ve barely eaten or slept for weeks, and you don’t think your body needs any refueling. You’re cruel, Wren; heartless and cruel to treat your frail flesh like that. Take a rest. Go ahead. Lie down.”

Lauren complied.

Brad pulled the covers over his sister, tucking her in nice and snug. “That’s it. Close your eyes.” His deep voice lowered to a whisper, “Go to sleep. Shhh.”

Lauren’s spasming chest settled into a normal breathing pattern. She suddenly felt tired. Very tired. Brad’s strong hand rested on her cheek for a moment, and then she was asleep.

When Lauren woke, it was dusk. The room seemed small. Forcing her eyes open all the way, an invisible weight pressed against her forehead. A moment later she remembered what day
it was. Then it all came back, rushing at her with unhappy urgency.

He’s gone. Jeff is out of my life forever
.

The covers stuck to her legs, and she kicked them off. Her queen-size bed was made up in white cotton sheets and frosted with a coverlet she loved. She had found it in a catalog several months ago and saved up the $119.99 to buy it. It was called “Tulips Jacquard” in the catalog and was a white-on-white, loomed quilted coverlet with a tulip design embroidered around the scalloped border. The ad said it was imported from Portugal. When it arrived, Lauren was sure it was the nicest thing she had ever owned.

Taking several deep breaths, Lauren gazed around her room, waiting for her eyes to adjust.

Only two pictures were on the walls. One was a Monet-style watercolor in blues and soft golds with tiny, muted red tulips in the background. The other was a Norman Rockwell poster of a young man in a suit and a young woman wearing a yellow dress standing on her tiptoes as she signed a marriage license before the justice of the peace. Lauren had bought it at a poster shop right before her first year of college.

Her roommate, Teri, had said that every time she looked at it, she wished she were the woman in yellow. Lauren felt the same way. The picture opened up many conversations for the two of them as to what kind of man they wanted to marry and what they thought marriage would be like.

Now all Lauren’s dreams of marriage were shattered. She expected to feel a swell of emotions that would draw the tears back to her eyes. Instead, she felt a strange sense of calm. For the first time in weeks she felt as if she was going to be okay. She wasn’t going to lose her mind after all.

What did this new peacefulness mean? Was Jeff going to come back?

Propping herself up on her elbow, she listened carefully. A male voice spoke in the next room. She eased her feet out from under the covers and walked quietly to the door, opening it a crack and peering into the dining area.

“Make that an extra large with the works,” Brad was saying into the phone. “What’s that? No, I don’t have any coupons. Okay. Thanks. Bye.”

“What time is it?” Lauren asked, walking out and squinting in the light.

“Dinner time, sleeping beauty. Are you hungry? I took the liberty of cleaning out the refrigerator for lunch, so dinner is on me. It’ll be here in thirty minutes.”

“You are too kind,” Lauren said, bending in a mock bow.

“Anything for your majesty,” Brad said.

“So what have you been doing all day, besides eating everything in my kitchen that isn’t plugged in?”

“Bringing you into the twenty-first century. Come here. Sit down. I want to show you this.” Brad was still in his gray T-shirt and jeans, barefooted. His hair was now flipped behind his ears, and the stubble on his chin was edging more toward a beard than a five-o’clock shadow, showing he had lost track of time. She felt unexplainably proud of her brother. He looked like a hippie and smelled awfully ripe. In the few short hours she had slept, he had trashed her kitchen and strewn empty cookie boxes, smashed soda cans, and two plastic trays from microwave meals around her small desk. Still, she was proud of the slob and glad he had come. Brad was all heart when and where it really counted.

Lauren pulled up a chair and said, “You need a shower. You seriously need a shower.”

“Okay, okay. As soon as I show you how to do this.” Brad began to walk her through all the steps to turn on her new
computer, connect with the Internet, prepare and send mail, and enter a chat room. As they entered their second chat room on the computer, the doorbell rang.

“I’ve got it,” Brad said, hopping up and pulling his wallet from his back pocket. He paid for the pizza as Lauren, fascinated, watched messages being typed in before her eyes, knowing they were coming from varying parts of the world. Everyone had an opinion, a comment, or a question. And for every action there was an equal and opposite reaction. Amazing. She had heard about this cyberspace of modern communication but to see it suddenly flashing across a computer screen in her little apartment was astounding.

“So what do you and I do to talk to each other?” she asked.

Brad stuffed a slice of steaming pizza in his mouth and mumbled, “You want some?”

“No. I’ll wait till it cools off. Plates are in the cupboard, Rad.”

“No problem. Yeow! This stuff is hot! How could it still be hot? Do you have any more sodas?”

“There’s some in the fridge.”

“Not anymore. I’ll settle for water. Unless you have an espresso maker.”

Lauren looked at her brother and shook her head. “What are you: a yuppie or a hippie? Make up your mind.”

He shrugged and took a hit of water right out of the faucet. Then, joining her, he said, “What were you asking about e-mail?”

“This isn’t e-mail, is it?” Lauren asked

“No, e-mail is private. Like a letter. No one else can read your e-mail unless you want them to. You and I will be able to send messages back and forth all the time for literally pennies. See, I send the letter to your local holding tank. This mailbox
icon here on your screen will let you know if you have any mail waiting, and then you can open it and read it anytime you want, right off the screen.”

“That’s pretty amazing,” Lauren said. She quickly handed him a napkin from the counter just before a pepperoni slipped off his pizza and landed on the keyboard.

“Good eyes,” Brad said. “Melted cheese is the worst to try to clean out of the keyboard.” He licked his fingers and sat down next to Lauren.

“I’m serious about that shower suggestion,” Lauren said.

“Okay, okay. Just watch this. We’re going to jump in here.” Brad typed in:

A
NY
GL’
S IN THE ROOM TONIGHT
?

“GL? What’s that?” Lauren asked.

“It’s an underground code a couple of guys in my Bible study group got going. It stands for God Lovers. If you say Christian anymore you get all kinds of responses, not necessarily from Christians, but from everyone else who thinks he knows what Christians are all about. Look, there’s a response.”

Across the screen came the message:

GL—
YES
. KC. E-
ME AT
 …,

and then came a string of letters and numbers.

“What kind of code is that?” Lauren asked.

“That’s his address.”

“How do you know what it means?”

“Easy. It’s someone who goes by the initials KC. He’s a God Lover, and that’s his mailbox number. He’s inviting correspondence. Let’s write him.”

“What are you going to say?” Lauren asked.

“Watch.” Brad tapped in:

H
EY
, KC. H
OW

S IT GOING
? I’
M VISITING MY SISTER
,
WHO

S RECOVERING FROM A BROKEN HEART
. H
OW ABOUT YOU
? E
VER HAD ONE OF THOSE
?

He signed it “Rad & Wren” and sent it to KC with Lauren’s new electronic address on it. “That’s your code now,” Brad explained to Lauren. “You needed a name for the Net. You don’t mind using Wren, do you?”

“Like it matters. You already used it. Did you send that letter?”

“Yep. If KC writes back it’ll come to your address. It appears I’ve just found you a pen pal.” Brad looked pleased with himself and celebrated by going for another piece of pizza.

“Why did you have to go and broadcast my private life to some stranger?”

“Since when did you care about your privacy?” Brad challenged. “You used to be an open book to anyone and everyone, particularly grocery clerks and UPS delivery men.”

Lauren got up, pulled a plate from the kitchen cupboard, and went looking for something to drink. The fridge was almost empty.

“You weren’t kidding, you chow hound. You’re buying groceries tomorrow.”

“You’re avoiding my question. Can we thank Mr. Jeff for this new, closed-tighter-than-a-vault version of Lauren Michele Phillips?”

“Can we just drop it, Bradley Dane Phillips?”

He knew better than to push. Lauren realized his comment contained an element of truth. She had changed during the time she was with Jeff.

“Hey, look!” Brad said. “You received a letter. From KC, no doubt.”

“Who else did you expect?”

“Cool. Let’s see what he has to say.”

“How do you know it’s a man?”

“I don’t. I just assumed. Read it between the lines.”

“How can you read between the lines when it was only one line? And a short one at that.”

“Listen to this,” Brad said and started to read:

H
EY
, R
AD
& W
REN
, N
ICE TO MEET YOU
,
BROTHER

AND SISTER
. S
ORRY TO HEAR ABOUT THE BROKEN HEART
. I
HAVEN

T HAD THE SAME EXPERIENCE
,
BUT WOULDN

T WISH THAT ON ANYONE
. T
HERE

S ALWAYS A REASON
,
YOU KNOW
. I
UNDERSTAND BROKEN HEARTS CAN ACTUALLY BE A GOOD THING
. A
T LEAST
G
OD SAYS THOSE ARE THE KIND OF HEARTS HE

S NEAR TO
. (I
THINK THAT

S ABOUT CHAPTER
34—P
SALMS
.) S
O DO YOU KNOW
D
OUG
? H
E

S THE ONE WHO TURNED ME ON TO THE
GL
CODE
. P
EACE
, KC

“Are you going to write him back?” Lauren asked.

“No,” Brad said, punching in some numbers. “You are. There. I saved his address. See, this is your address book. You pull it down like this. That’s my e-mail number, and there’s KC’s. Two pen pals. Now you’re on your own. I’m going jogging.”

BOOK: Echoes
3.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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