One of the reasons Kristi liked working at Lake Susan each summer was because of the fantastic selection of green growing things there. That’s what she always did on her day off—go after more specimens for her collection.
This afternoon was no different at all. She was nudging her little trowel around the delicate roots of some Houstonia caerulea (or if you prefer, some bluets) when she noticed the pair of boots. Lifting her eyes she followed the boots until they joined the jeans, and the jeans joined the shirt, and the shirt opened into the most tooth-filled grin she’d seen. This was all crowned by a flop of sun-blonde hair that was being flipped back as the grin turned into a laugh.
“Hi there, Flora. What do you have there?”
“Flora? My name is Kristi; these are some Houston … some bluets. Who are you?” she added, as she suddenly realized she’d never seen him before.
“Yeah, Flora, like flora and fauna. My name is Nils. Hmmm, Kristi.” He speculated for a moment and then pronounced, “Flora fits better.”
By dark she had found out that he worked down at the marina giving water skiing lessons, that his whole name was Nils Frederick Cramer IV, and that he had a Piper Cub airplane he planned to take her flying in next week. He was also in law school and had an opening in his family’s firm when he finished his degree next spring.
They had a beautiful summer. He taught her to water ski and she taught him about her plants. For Kristi summer had always been a period of timelessness. She had never been able to relate anything that happened in the summer to the rest of her life. This year was even more a fairy tale. With Nils at her side she skimmed across the waters of Lake Susan. She soared above the mountains in his plane. Sometimes they went down to the village to attend a dance or a movie, and with him she never got too tired to run, laughing through the moonlight, back to the resort. Sometimes they just hiked around the silent forests by the lake, drinking in the verdant magnificence. It was perfect, almost.
One Sunday evening when she had just returned from sacrament meeting in the village, they were sitting on the dock, watching the fish play with the flies.
“Flora,” Nils began, “there’s one thing about you I’ll never understand. How can a girl of your intellect and awareness be such a religious fanatic?”
Kristi had been carefully avoiding the subject of the Church for most of the summer. It wasn’t that she was ashamed of her membership, she just felt that it wasn’t something she could successfully discuss with Nils. It was odd, actually. She had always been an aggressive member-missionary. But Nils was one person whose life she didn’t want to start tampering with. Besides, she was going to enjoy this summer and not clutter it up with the Church. They would never see each other again after August, and so it didn’t matter. As long as she kept herself in tune, then what Nils believed was irrelevant. And she was doing a fairly good job of it, if she had to say so herself.
“Well, Nils, it’s just something I’ve always known to be true, and I can’t really explain it. I’ll never change because I can’t deny the truth.”
“But Flora, it’s so immature. It’s out of character for you to cling to such a silly little-girl thing as Sunday School. I used to go to a church when I was a kid too, but it’s all over now. I grew up. I don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore, either. So what?”
Kristi just changed the subject so she could think for a while. It never did occur to her to really try to explain the Church to him. She just kept thinking that things had been going so well until he brought up the Church; so she just arranged to keep it out of any conversations they had after that one. It was a strain trying to be a good member while still avoiding it, but she thought she was doing quite nicely. Besides, summer was ending fast, and when she got to school, she could forget Nils and really get back into things again. In the meantime she meant to enjoy the little paradise they had created.
Fall came with a jolt. They both knew it would eventually; but it was hard getting used to the idea that they had come to the end. Nils kept insisting that this wasn’t the end and that he’d write or call—he did want to see her again. Kristi silently figured she knew his type. Besides, it really couldn’t be continued once they left this setting. She couldn’t define it, but she knew it would never work.
School gathered her in with the familiar excitement of stepping into the new routine of different classes and different roommates. Carma and Gail, two old standbys from last year, were living next door in the dorm, and the three of them often did things together. One night they attended a movie that Kristi had seen with Nils that summer. It wasn’t even a very good one, but she became so moody that Carma insisted on being told the whole story. When Kristi finished, Carma said,
“Look, Kristi, you’re right. It couldn’t have lasted at all. I really think you should have taken him to church or maybe had the missionaries see him, though. But that’s all behind you now. We have to cure you and get your old cheery self back. What you need is a date with my cousin Del. Now I’ll call him up tomorrow and …” They walked home scheming, but Kristi was silent, thinking about how disappointing school was and how perfectly boring this winter was beginning to be.
She went through the motions of living and eventually decided that she was quite normal but that she had matured a little and was able to see how foolish all the enthusiasm she’d exhibited before was. When she came home from school one afternoon and saw the roses on her desk, she never even suspected Nils. The card read, “To my lovely Flora. Happy Anniversary, four months ago today. Love, Nils.”
He called that night, and she couldn’t believe that they had forty-five minutes worth of things to say to each other. He called her every week after that and sent her all sorts of ridiculous mail. Once she told him that he had to stop the phone calls because they must be costing him too much.
“Flora, my love, money doesn’t matter where you, my sweet, are involved.”
“Nils, be realistic. Your vocabulary is straight from the fourteenth century. You cannot possibly afford it.”
“But Flora, realistically, I can afford it, and besides, I think I love you, and how will I ever find out if I don’t talk to you?” And then, as usual, “When can you come and see me?”
And, also as usual, “Never; you have to stop calling; you have to stop writing; you have to stop missing me; you cannot love me. It won’t work, Nils; we’re too different. Please.”
He never believed her, though. She wondered what she’d have to do to convince him. After she hung up the phone, her roommate Jill offered to pray and fast with her for a solution. Kristi politely, but coldly, made some remark about being perfectly capable of solving her own problems. Once in a while she found herself thinking that it was rather comforting to know that somewhere out there someone cared that much about her. Someone as unique as Nils thought about her often.
One afternoon she decided to go next door and visit Carma and Gail. As she started around the corner, she heard Gail’s voice coming through the open door.
“I have noticed, Carma. I really have. She’s just different. You know how fervent Kristi always was about her testimony. It seems faded or something. We definitely need to help …” Kristi just slipped back into her own room, bitter thoughts filling her mind about fickle friends minding their own business.
Her birthday came on a Thursday. Nils hadn’t called for two weeks and no mail had come for nearly a month. To add to her depression, it had snowed all day. The only thing she wanted to do was to go back home where the sun shone and no one had even heard of snow. She was getting tired of reality. Summer seemed so far away, and she was so depressed by the way this winter was turning out. There seemed to be nothing in the world that could cheer her up that evening. She had just resigned herself to homework when the phone rang. A voice told her that she had a special delivery package at the dorm office and asked that she and several friends come down to claim it. The several friends and Kristi managed to get the 3-by-4-foot crate back to her room with much difficulty. They struggled with the cover, and when they finally pried it off, she couldn’t believe it. An orange tree, with tiny, greenish oranges on it, stood in a pot in the middle of her floor. Tied to one branch was a card that said:
“Happiness is: California for your birthday. I love you, Flora. Nils.”
At eight-thirty he called.
“Pack your bags, my dear. The flying ace is coming tomorrow to take you back for a wonderful weekend in the sun. And now for the big surprise. You know that television game show you like so well, ‘It’s Up to You’? Well, a friend of mine gave me two tickets for the Friday afternoon taping session. You’re sure to get on the show with these seats. What do you have to say?”
“Nils, you want me to spend the whole weekend with you? The whole weekend?”
“Good grief, you accuse me of living in the fourteenth century! So what? What could it hurt? Aren’t you just a little sick of the snow by now anyway?”
“No buts. This is a chance in a lifetime. I’ll never be able to get such good tickets again. I know how well you like that show. Come on. I’ll be up at eight-thirty in the morning. It only takes two hours to fly, so we’ll be back here in plenty of time to go have a nice little lunch somewhere and then be at the studio … Florie, are you still there?”
“Nils, stop and listen to me for a minute. I cannot come down to spend any time with you, especially not an entire weekend. Now will you just stop planning and—”
“Not another word. I’ve heard it all before, but this time I am going to win. Tomorrow at eight-thirty. You’ll love it. And I love you. See you!”
She stood there holding the silent phone in her hand and hearing in her mind, “It couldn’t hurt, it couldn’t hurt.” Placing the phone gently back onto its cradle and sitting down, she began to think. “Could it really be so bad just visiting him? It probably wouldn’t hurt. In fact, it will be a good time to clear this up once and for all.”
She puttered around the room, packing a bag and muttering to herself how sane and innocent her decision was, but she avoided looking up when Jill asked where she was going.
She got ready for bed, and it occurred to her how long it had been since she had really prayed. She didn’t pray that night either. It just seemed that there was nothing to say lately. She wasn’t all that interested in what He had to say to her, anyway. She assumed she already knew and she pretended not to care. The thought crossed her mind before she went to sleep, “I’m a big girl now, perfectly capable of making decisions without everyone’s interference and assistance …”
… She couldn’t believe it! She, Kristi Evans, had been chosen as a contestant, and they were already to the final big choice of the show. She’d been so clever and careful and thoughtful and had won so many beautiful gifts. She had so much; how could anything be better? Yet here was the M.C. pointing toward another curtain where a gorgeous girl with a frozen smile gestured gracefully toward the next option. The M.C. was describing with his smooth voice all the joys that would await her if she were willing to give up the things she was certain she had for the things behind that curtain. The audience was shouting a din of advice all around her; she looked down at Nils. He shrugged and said, “It’s up to you.”
The M.C. said, “It’s up to you.”
The gorgeous girl gestured, and her grin dripped ice. Nils shrugged, and the M.C. urged her to hurry. She tried to think, but all that came through was, “It’s up to you.”
Suddenly she was seated beside Nils, the M.C. was signing off until tomorrow, and Kristi felt sick. It was all over and she had lost. Why, why, why had she traded that one last time? Why couldn’t she have realized that she had everything she could ever want or need already? She had had no idea what the curtain concealed; she had known what she had; she could see she was well off already. Why, why …
Jill was shaking her, “Kristi, Kristi, wake up, honey. What’s wrong? You were shouting. What happened?”
It was 2:30 A.M. Kristi sat up and shook her head. “I almost lost. I really almost lost everything! How could anyone be so stupid? Oh, Jill …” She sat crying for a few minutes while her roommate held her, and then Kristi, the former Flora, picked up the phone to call Nils.