Two Hearts Stand Alone Pt. 06

byphotodad©

Outside the bank, Christine needled Chris. "Okay, genius. How are you planning on getting it home?"

He admitted that he didn't think that far ahead. "I guess I could call Dad to meet us here when he gets off work."

She rolled her eyes. "There'd still be a car left without a driver."

The seller turned around before getting into his car. "He can drive can't he..." The sentence trailed off when he saw the boot on Chris's right foot. "Ohh...well, where do you live?"

Chris told him the general area.

"That's not all that far away, so I'll deliver the truck there. Meet me back at the house and I'll have my wife follow us."

"Thanks, but we'll figure something out...even if I have to take this boot off."

The guy chuckled. "It might be dark by the time you figure it out, it seems. Please, it's the least I could do for taking the truck off our hands. Besides, we can deposit this check on the way back and pay some bills."

It was agreed, and by the time his parents got home from work, Chris's new truck was parked out front.

His mom cooked dinner with Christine helping, and the bulk of the conversations was about the new cars. His dad said that he would trim the tree that hung over the driveway in back, and move the new truck tomorrow afternoon to where his Firebird used to sit. As much as Chris made fun of Christine driving her mom's "beast," the Suburban looked like a puppy next to his truck, and the acquisition never would have cleared the branches of the oak tree.

The dishes were finished, and they all retired to watch TV in the den. Christine laid out on the couch, her sandals on the floor next to her. Chris sat in the upright chair next to the television, watching it from the harsh angle. This intrigued his mom. Normally, the two would sit up on the couch, nestled against each other. Chris didn't complain but looked uncomfortable in the hard chair. She asked him to go with her to the kitchen so she could show him something.

Once alone, she asked why they weren't sitting together, and he told her about Christine having a bad dream. He didn't know what it was about, but suspected it might be related to her being in the house alone. Either way, Christine seemed to need some space for now. His mom nodded and went back in the den to offer Chris's old room downstairs for tonight.

"Really?" Christine asked readily. She was starting to admit to herself that she was dreading going back to her house.

"Sure. Just for tonight until your parents get back home tomorrow."

"Thanks!" Christine beamed and started putting her sandals on. "I gotta let the dogs out and feed them, but I'll be right back. It really means a lot to me."

Before Chris could offer, his dad popped up from the recliner. "I'll go with you, C. I can take care of your dogs while you get some things together to bring over for the night."

The two left and Chris had a puzzled look on his face. "What's with Dad suddenly?" he asked his mom.

"He really likes her. And, since she's going to be family soon, he's helping her out."

"Yeah, but to offer to trim the tree so my truck will fit? I could do that myself in a couple of weeks. Wouldn't hurt the truck to be in front that short of time."

His mom hugged him. "Just accept it. What he doesn't say in words, he makes up for in actions. He loves you both."

Later on that night when everyone in the house had gone to bed, Christine climbed the stairs into Chris's room. She sat on his bed and enveloped him in a tight hug.

"Thanks for being understanding with me today," she said. "That dream really had me spooked."

"What was it about?"

She shook her head. "I don't want to get into it. Not sure where it came from, I've been so happy lately."

"I love you," he said.

"Love you, too."

They kissed for a few minutes before she went back to her room for the night.

Chris and Christine didn't see each other much after breakfast the next morning. She had to pick up her parents from the airport, so his mom took him out to the insurance office so they could change the vehicles on their policies. His doctor also wanted to see him at the hospital for another follow-up. After that was lunch and clothes shopping for his new job.

Christine welcomed her parents with hugs that were returned just as fiercely. There was a celebratory lunch, and when they got home, her parents inspected and fawned over her new car. The rest of the afternoon was spent with Christine presenting her slideshow of pictures taken on the trip.

The two families met the next morning at church with no shortage of hugs. At one point during the Mass, their pastor announced the engagement to the congregation, and the couple stood to acknowledge the solid round of applause. Everyone was very happy to see that the pair they watched grow up together had made a commitment to each other. Then, it was announced that Chris would be taking over the diocese youth office tomorrow. There was another round of hopeful applause, as the youth program had seemed a bit lost over the last year. It would be nice to see better direction in the future.

They all had brunch after Mass, chatting excitedly about the events that took place over the last week that would eventually join the two families.

"So, when is the wedding?" asked Christine's mom.

CC looked at each other. Through all this, they hadn't thought about when. "We haven't gotten that far," admitted Christine.

"Maybe a long engagement? Wait until we're done with school?" suggested Chris.

That was considered at length by all. There seemed to be some hesitation from the parents, but Chris and Christine were content to wait until then. In the end, it was tentatively agreed that the date would be determined sometime in the future.

Chapter 32

Christine picked up her new boss the next morning, and they arrived at the office at 8. The first part of the day was spent on hiring paperwork, the most unusual piece being the morality clause. By signing, the employee agreed that should they ever be caught or arrested doing something that could embarrass the diocese, or cause harm to any child, the employment would be terminated, regardless of the outcome at a trial. She joked to him that any ideas he might have about "public fun" were out of the question. Once the packs of papers were complete, there was a tour of the office that included introductions, which benefited the couple more than anyone else.

After lunch was an office meeting that the bishop called, and to start it off, he offered "CC" warm congratulations on their engagement. Christine was surprised that he actually used their school's pet name for them. The meeting was designed to acquaint the pair on how each department worked, and what resources were available to Catholics in the area. At the end, he asked Chris for his plan on how to "right the ship" of the neglected youth program. His answer impressed the room, and surprised Christine, since she thought he would be stumped as this was his first day there.

"Well," began Chris. "Young people are very passionate when motivated. If there is a clear goal, they will work towards it, sometimes to the detriment of other things in their lives. Especially if they can see how their work would visibly benefit the greater good. For the college and high school groups, I'd like to start a project called 'Unity Through Community Action.'"

The opening statement resulted in a number of people leaning forward on the table to hear more. The bishop himself rested his elbows on the conference table with his hands clasped before him. Chris spent the next half hour detailing what was in his head, ranging from compiling a database that could be sorted by each youth volunteer's strengths and assets, to getting professionals to volunteer time to teach skills like first-aid, event planning, and effective communication. He envisioned getting to a point that the parish youths could be collectively viewed by the community as a valuable asset when needed. There would be monthly meetings for emerging leaders, and quarterly get-together events to facilitate cohesion with the rest of the volunteers.

There was a general consensus that his idea meshed well with the teachings of the Church, and he was given the green light to start organizing the movement. Then he was asked what he planned for the younger children. Chris's response was that the children's part of the youth program seemed at first glance to be the most stable from what he had witnessed at his parish. He said that for now, at least, he would seek to maintain the program at its current level, with occasional performance reviews of the religious education teachers that were involved with the non-parochial school students.

The meeting was closed and most went home at this point. Chris and Christine headed back to their office to get a couple more hours of work in.

"You know you just tripled my workload?" she said to him.

"Nah. I'll do the legwork on the project, if you keep doing what you were planning on doing."

"Okay..." she said, not at all convinced.

But, true to his word, that's pretty much what happened. She knew she was only temporarily there, so she worked her tail off to get the office set up for her successor, trying to get things where everything Chris needed would be easy to find for whomever the next receptionist would be. Christine built a directory consisting of nearly any number that would possibly be needed in their office. Near the end of her short tenure, she printed out a hardcopy that was organized by category. It was later called "The Yellow Pages of the Diocese" by envious co-workers. The other projects she took on included tackling the confused jumble of books in Chris's office, and reworking the layout of furniture in the reception area. All this took time, and none of it was completed until about a week before she left for college.

Her most prized accomplishment, oddly enough, was convincing her pastor to donate a flatscreen and Wii console for the reception area. She purchased two white boards and organized Wii bowling and tennis tournaments for the area youth leaders and office mates. Anyone in a parish was invited, and several would occasionally stop by, but those two were the most regular groups. Their office became a popular hangout on Friday afternoons once she had it all set up.

Chris spent many hours on the phone to put his plan in motion. The first step was a conference call with all the parishes' youth directors to sell the idea to them and get their feedback. He used a very good idea that was brought up in that call, and organized a potluck/field day/meet-and-greet party for all the area youth. After ensuring the information was filtered down through the parishes, he picked several of the more active non-Catholic churches and invited their youth to attend. The bishop caught wind of the party and warned him of one reservation he had. The event had to get insured. Chris apologized for not thinking of that, but the bishop dismissed it and said it was all part of learning. The insurance rider cost would come out of Chris's budget.

The field day was a huge success. He stopped the activities after about an hour for a meeting, joking that it was the price of admission. The "UAC" concept was pitched and the attending youth jumped at the chance to volunteer. Before the end of the picnic and field day, meeting places and times were being organized among the youth without being prompted.

Later in the week they started their jobs, Chris received a letter that was forwarded from NBC. It was a letter of congratulations from a viewer who was moved by the show they appeared on. The bottom line was that she felt that the couple who endured so much should have an easier start to the rest of their lives. To make her point, there was a check enclosed for $2500. CC discussed extensively with their parents as to what should be done with the check. It was tempting to keep, but they felt guilty to profit from a story that was made so public due to the loss of their friends. Giving the check back to the donor would likely hurt her feelings. In the end, they decided a compromise was best, keeping half for themselves, and depositing the other half in a separate savings account.

If one gift was made from viewers, it was possible there would be others later. So, the idea was to keep the separate account for a couple of weeks, then split that money among the families of their classmates. Well, donations rolled in after that, and a bank manager approached them to suggest a trust. In the end, the trust got administered by Sister Collins. The families were told of the trust, and it was decided to reserve the amount for their requests for a year. After that, the account was advertised for donations in the diocese and it was reserved to fund tuition scholarships for students who otherwise could not afford to attend Catholic High. The Trust of Light exists to this day, replenished continually by local parishes and alumni of the school.

At night after work during those first couple of weeks, Chris and Christine spent a couple of hours writing personal responses to the letters that poured in, thanking the generous person for their gift and detailing how the money was being put to use. They treated themselves with a few small purchases, but overall kept most of the gifts in an account to be used later on during their college years. Truth was, they were so busy that they didn't have much chance to be intimate with each other, let alone buy and use frivolous things like video games, as others in their age group might have done.

Christine had been so involved in her job, that she had almost forgotten about Auburn until she received a housing packet. She was at the kitchen table that Saturday morning, poring over dorm choices when her parents joined her for breakfast. Her sudden gasp startled them. Although her scholarship covered the total cost of on-campus housing, the amount it cost still shocked her.

"What is it?" her mom asked.

"$1800 to $3100 EACH semester?!"

"Yeah, but that covers power, water, sewer, and janitorial services for the shared bathrooms," her dad said around a bite of cereal. "Not to mention free repairs if a door breaks, or an outlet stops working."

"I sure am glad I have this scholarship. That's like a third of a mortgage payment." Dealing with several hard luck cases at the diocese office, she was getting schooled quickly in how the real world works.

Her dad looked up, as that statement just gave him an idea. "You and Chris are still getting married, right?"

She held up her left hand, displaying her ring. "Duh, Daddy."

He smiled, glad she hadn't lost her wit through the work at the office. "Well, just throwing this out there, but it would be a shame to throw away 20 grand at the end of four years on a room you won't ever use again."

Her mom was confused now. "What are you getting at?"

"Yeah, Daddy?"

"Why don't you buy a house near campus?"

Christine laughed. "Psht. Like we could do THAT."

"Why not?"

"No credit, not enough for a down payment, no income...to name a few reasons."

"If you use Chris's income...you said you were getting married," he suggested. "He makes plenty to buy a house now. And, his parents are going to let him stay at home until you graduate, right?"

"That's the plan." Christine folded her arms against her chest, and she was acutely aware of her thumbnail when it grazed across her nipple through her shirt. It had been almost a month now since her and Chris last had sex back in California. She was itching for his touch again, and pretty sure he was randy as well, but there just weren't any opportunities at either parents' houses, and no time for anywhere else. She shook her head clear of her daydream. Must be horny, she thought, to be thinking about that during this serious conversation. "That still leaves the issue of no down payment."

"There's that account with half the money you received from the Tonight Show audiences," her mother reminded. "Or, have you two spent it already?"

"When could we have? No, it's still there, but not really enough for a down payment. Besides, we were hoping to have some of it available for the wedding and honeymoon."

"Then I'll make a deal with y'all," said her dad. "If you use half of that gift money for a down payment, I'll match it double."

"What? That's a lot of money, Daddy. I couldn't ask you to do..."

"You're not. I'm asking YOU. Besides, how many more brothers and sisters do you have behind you?"

"Well, none. But..."

"But nothing. Happy graduation!"

"You didn't do this for Tom, or Mary, or..."

"Eh, consider it a perk for being the baby of the family. Just don't tell any of them."

"Thanks! A lot! But I wouldn't feel right for Chris to pay the mortgage all alone."

"Still with the objections, huh? We'll talk with the scholarship board and get your housing part applied toward the mortgage payments." He cocked a grin out of the side of his mouth. "Anything else keeping you from saying yes?"

"What about after I graduate? I don't think we'd want to live in Auburn...certainly not next to the university."

"Then rent it out after you leave and get some income out of it...or sell it."

"You have an answer for everything, don't you Daddy?" She ran around the table to hug her dad.

"I try," he said with a smile.

Her hug lingered around her dad, then she jumped up. "I'll go pitch it to Chris," she said suddenly as she snatched her keys and purse off the kitchen counter and flew out the door.

Christine parked in back and let herself in through the garage. She found him lounging on the sofa in the den, sprawled out in a t-shirt and jean shorts, tapping out an email on his Android. She launched herself in a hop and landed on his lap.

"Oof! Hey, C!" he greeted her with a kiss.

His mom giggled from her seat in the nearby recliner. "You're awfully spunky this morning, Christine."

"What are y'all watching?" she asked all bubbly, though it was obvious that the Weather Channel was on.

"Oh just waiting for the next tropical update," Chris said. "Exciting, huh?"

"Mmm boy! Y'all sure know how to live it up!" she agreed sarcastically. Still sitting on his lap, she sat back against the cushion to let him see the segment that started to play.

Most of the news was about three storms far out into the Pacific, and there was a brief mention of a wave coming off the African coast before the station went back to commercials.

"Now that you can see we're still 'all clear,' you wanna hear why I came over?" she asked.

"Oh, I just thought you wanted to see me," Chris feigned disappointment.

She rewarded his fishing expedition with a peck on the lips. "Well, that too. But, Daddy wanted me to ask you something."

Christine went on to relate the house idea, and while Chris was silent through most of it, his mom came up with nearly the same objections Christine did earlier. She gave the same answers her dad gave her, but Chris's mom was wary about him signing a mortgage for a place he wouldn't even be in.

"Are you two really getting married?" she asked in accusation.

Christine held her hand up for the second time that day. "You gave us the ring..."

"Yes, but you haven't begun to talk about even when or where the wedding would be held."

"Mom," Chris warned.

"No, really Chris. Don't you see my point? What if you sign for this house, and something unforeseen happens between you two. You could be stuck holding the bag."

"That won't happen," argued Christine.

"No?"

"No."

"You're so sure about that? Okay, let me approach it from another angle. When was the last time you and Chris rolled in the hay?"

"Mom!" shouted Chris.

"Oh stuff it, Christopher. I'm not stupid," she chastised. Turning back to Christine, "So?"

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