Craig MacDonald carefully eased his bad leg out of the car and slowly stood up. “Take your time; we’ve got plenty of time,” Wayne, his home teaching companion assured him as they walked slowly across the parking lot into one of the Heritage Hall apartment buildings and up the stairs to room 201.
A freckled girl opened the door. “Our home teachers are here,” she called out. “Clear the deck.”
They walked inside to the kitchen area. Wayne introduced Craig to the girls in the apartment. “Craig is new in the branch this summer. This is his first time at the Y.”
Craig listened while Wayne gave the lesson; he told about an experience he had on his mission.
“Have you been on a mission?” one of the girls asked Craig.
“No,” he answered quickly.
The girl nervously shot a glance at his leg and blushed.
“Well, girls, is there anything we can do for you as home teachers?” Wayne asked, changing the subject.
“No, we’re all getting along fine,” one of them replied.
After the lesson, Wayne and the girls talked about school and Church activities while Craig sat quietly, his eyes fixed vacantly on the opposite wall. One of the girls looked nervously at the clock and excused herself to get ready for a date. Soon another girl left for the library. Wayne started to get up to leave.
“Now don’t run off without some cake. I made it especially for you two. We always have some treat when the home teachers come,” one of the girls insisted. She was blonde, overweight, and outwardly almost jolly. The other girls called her “Mom.”
“I’ve got to be going,” Wayne replied. “Craig, you can stay if you want, but I’ve got to pick up my date. Is it okay if I just leave now? Can you get back to the apartment all right?”
Wayne left after the prayer. “How do you like it here at summer school?” the girl who had made the cake asked.
Another girl excused herself to answer the door. She didn’t come back to the kitchen.
The two sat in silence eating the cake.
Would you like another piece of cake?” she asked.
She got up and cut two additional pieces of cake for them. Halfway through the second piece she said, “I really shouldn’t be eating this.”
“Then why are you?”
“You said you shouldn’t be eating the second piece. Then why are you?”
“What kind of a question is that?”
“You’re already overweight.”
“Thanks, you’ve really brightened my day.”
“Don’t you have any self-discipline?”
“Don’t you have any manners?” she asked sharply.
“No, I guess not.” He grabbed the edge of the table to help him as he got up. She looked away from him in embarrassment as he laboriously boosted himself up. In the process he knocked a plastic glass onto the floor. She rushed to the spot and wiped up the spilled water.
“I’m sorry about the glass.”
“Don’t be; it’s nothing.”
“Can I help you?”
“No, it’s all done,” she said, standing up.
“Are you embarrassed about my leg?” he asked.
“Then why did you look away when I got up?”
“I don’t know.”
“I embarrass people. All I have to do is enter a room and people start looking at the floor and mothers grab their children to stop them from pointing.”
On his way out, she opened the door to her room and showed him the large poster-size picture of a young man wearing a white shirt and dark tie.
“That’s my missionary,” she said. “Elder Kirby Jackson of the Dakota-Manitoba Mission. I took his picture and sent it in to be blown up to poster size.”
She walked into the room, while he paused in the hall. “These are his letters,” she said pointing to a couple of shoe boxes on her desk. “I’m keeping his journal for him.”
“Is that a picture of you with him before his mission?” Craig asked, looking at a slender girl with flowing blonde hair standing beside a tanned 19-year-old guy on a Honda.
“Yeah,” she answered. “I’ve put on a little weight since that picture was taken.”
“How much? Forty pounds?”
“You were on your way out. I shouldn’t keep you.”
He said good-bye to the only other girl in the apartment and walked out. The blonde came out with him.
“I forgot your name,” he said.
“Good-bye, Paula.” He started slowly down the stairs.
“Let me walk with you,” she asked.
“I don’t need your help.”
“I know, but is it okay if I come for a little while?”
“I can’t face another Friday night in that place alone.”
They made their way outside. He walked slowly; several couples passed them on the sidewalk heading for the Wilkinson Center.
“It’s 30 pounds, not 40 pounds, that I’ve put on since he left.”
“I was pretty close,” he replied.
“He’s coming home at the end of the summer. Last week he wrote and asked me to send him a picture. My roommate and I tried all day to get a pose that wouldn’t give me away. It was useless.”
“What did you do?”
“I sent him a picture of me that was taken before he left on his mission.”
“‘We believe in being honest.’”
“Okay, it wasn’t honest. But I can’t let him know until I have to.”
They waited for the traffic light to change so they could go.
“He wrote back and said I hadn’t changed a bit,” she added.
The light changed, and they started across. About halfway across, the light changed again. The line of cars waited while they got across.
“Quit eating cake,” Craig said.
“That’s easy to say. On the weekend all my roommates have dates, and I’m all alone in the kitchen. I usually decide to fix a little snack for them when they get back. Sometimes it’s all gone before they return.
“At first I ate because I missed him. Now I eat because I’m depressed that I’m fat. The more depressed I get, the more I eat.”
They walked into the Harris Fine Arts Building and looked at some artwork on the first floor.
“When people talk about me anymore they say, ‘She has a sweet spirit.’ That’s the only part of me that’s not overweight.”
“Can’t you date until he comes back?”
“I’ve dated. After the second date, l make my little speech about waiting for a missionary and can’t we be friends.”
They stopped in front of a large oil painting.
“He asks me about Kirby and tells me how much he admires any girl who will wait for a missionary. Then he takes me to the door and shakes my hand. I never hear from him again. The kids in the branch know I’m waiting, and nobody asks me out any more.”
“Are you going back later and finish off the rest of the cake?” Craig asked.
“You’re really something, you know that? Do you act this suave with other girls?”
“There haven’t been many other girls. My mother’s a widow, and she feels it’s her duty to protect me so I won’t get hurt.”
“I couldn’t imagine anybody could ever hurt you,” Paula said.
“Last year when all my friends went away to school, I stayed home and took correspondence courses.
“She kept saying that if I went to college I’d slip on the ice and not even be able to walk at all.”
They left the building and continued walking in the warm summer evening.
“Finally I talked her into letting me come in the summer, but she still follows the weather report to warn me if any sudden storm blows in. And she calls me all the time and asks me if I’m ready to come home.”
“You do okay,” she said.
“It’s not the walking that’s hard. It’s being around so many people. I spent my high school years in a back bedroom reading old Life magazines. Sometimes here I don’t want to leave the apartment and go to class because people will look at me. I just want to stay in the nice room and hide.”
They sat down by the reflecting pool in front of the administration building.
“What do you suppose people think when they see you with me?” he asked. “Do you imagine they admire you for being so noble?”
“Is that why you think I’m with you? To be noble?”
“Yeah. Or is it my charming personality?”
She ignored the question.
“Can you picture me on a mission?” he asked her.
“No. Not because of your leg really, but I think you’d scare people.”
“I can’t picture myself on a mission either,” he said. “But my bishop at home can. He even got me an appointment with a specialist who gave me some exercises. The specialist thought I could complete a mission if I worked at getting stronger.”
They stood up and began to walk toward the library.
“I started on the exercises, but my mother told me that there were plenty of ‘healthy young men’ who could go on missions without sending me. She said I’d only drag my companions down because I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them. Soon after that I quit the exercises.”
“Maybe she was right,” Paula said.
“Maybe. I hope she’s not always right. She told me I’d be better off staying home instead of coming here this summer. If I don’t make it this summer in school, then I go back home. This may be my only chance to prove that I can cope with life.”
He stopped and turned to her. “Will you help me?”
“How can I help you?” Paula said.
“Teach me how to get along with people. I don’t know how to dance. I don’t know how to talk to girls very well. I’m always saying something wrong. If you’ll help me, I’ll help you lose weight.”
“You know I can’t get involved.”
“We could not get involved together. Just for the summer until your missionary gets back.”
Monday they went to the health center to get advice on a diet for Paula and discuss exercises to strengthen Craig’s leg.
On the way back she went ahead of him half a block and sat down to watch him walk.
“Well?” he asked.
“You carry an apology on your face, you know that? And you lower your head when someone approaches you on the sidewalk. Are you embarrassed that they should have to see you?”
“How should I walk?”
“With style, like you have something to offer the world.”
“What do I have to offer the world?”
“Whatever you decide, H.T.” she said, calling him H.T. for home teacher. “By the way, have you got any money?”
“I’m loaded. Why?”
“I’m going to make you a legend in your own time. Let’s walk downtown and get you some clothes.”
It took them two hours to get to the store. They passed a small grocery store on the way, and he bought them two cucumbers. They borrowed a knife from the lady at the counter, sliced the cucumbers, and ate them on the way.
“You like that?” he asked her. “That’s lunch.”
She had the salesman at the store get his measurements, and then she picked out some clothes. She picked out a pair of wine-colored check slacks, a wine-colored blazer, and a new tie.
“How’s this?” she asked him. “Great for a used car salesman. But I like gray.”
“What do you want, camouflage?”
“Gray is conservative,” he said.
“You’re 19 years old. Wear gray when you’re 40, not now. Will you wear it if I show you how to wear clothes with style?”
He bought her a notebook, and she wrote down everything she ate each day. At noon they met in the cafeteria for a light lunch. At that time he looked at her notebook and went item by item through all the food she had eaten during the past 24 hours. She began to lose weight.
At first they walked two miles a day. One day they decided to walk four miles.
“H.T., how many times have I got to tell you? Straighten up. You look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
“My leg hurts. Can we call a taxi?”
“You’re the one who said four miles, remember?”
She started to walk away from him. He followed after her.
“Quit walking away from me!” he demanded.
“Keep up with me. The tough get going when the going gets tough.”
“Is that something your missionary friend at Dead Fish wrote?”
“It’s Deadwood and Spearfish, not Dead Fish. Yeah, he wrote that. Why?”
“It’s the dumbest thing I ever heard in my life.”
“Yeah? Says who?”
“You wanna fight?” she asked.
“What weight class? Heavyweight?” he taunted.
“Not anymore, H. T. I’m losing.”
“Well, quit walking away from me.”
“No. If you want to be babied, go home to your mother. It’s a cold, cruel world, H.T.”
They were in a residential area of the town. She maintained about a 30-foot lead, not looking back.
A young boy was watering the lawn with a hand sprayer. “Could I borrow your hose to get my friend a drink?” The boy handed him the hose. He adjusted the spray so it sent out a narrow burst of water. He directed it at Paula who was still walking in front of him, not looking back, barking out commands for him to hurry up.
“Aahhhhh!” she screamed when the spray caught her in the back.
There were days when they didn’t mention her missionary, days when they walked in the hot summer sun together, sometimes holding hands. There were days when they talked about themselves. He told her about the comic books his uncle had given him when he was eight. They were Captain Marvel comic books about a crippled newsboy who becomes the world’s strongest man merely by saying “SHAZAM.” He talked about how he used to dream that he was that newsboy, and how he would wake up at night from a dream screaming “SHAZAM!”
There were nights during the weekend when they danced. She taught him every dance she knew. Sometimes she danced close to him on the slow dances.
He always knew when she’d received a letter from Kirby because she drew away from him, becoming more harsh with him.
“Go ask someone else to dance, H.T.”
“No. I don’t want to.”
“Look, you have to. It’d be better if you got to know other girls.”
“I don’t want to know other girls.”
“Maybe I won’t always be around for you.”
“Meaning Elder Kirby Jackson is coming back.”
“Who’s he? I’ve forgotten all about him.”
“H.T., go dance. I’ll dance every second dance with you.”
He went and asked another girl to dance.
When he came back, she asked as clinically as she could, “Why didn’t you talk to her? We’ve gone through how to talk to girls.”
“Paula, do you mind? Can’t you treat me like a person instead of some project you’re doing for extra credit?”
He told her he didn’t want to dance for a while, and he asked her to come with him to the outdoor overlook on top of the Wilkinson Center. She seemed hesitant but finally went with him.
“Have you been here before?” he asked her as they looked out across the campus.
“Can you tell?”
“He’s like a ghost that follows me around all over the campus,” he said.
“We came here on our last date before he went into the missionary home.”
“What did he say that night?” Craig asked.
“He said, ‘I hope you’ll wait because I love you.’”
“That’s what he said, huh? How did he say it? Paula, I love you.”
“Can we go back to the dance?” Paula asked nervously.
“No, I’ve got to practice. I want to get it just right. With style. You’re very big on style, aren’t you? Paula, I love you.”
He grabbed her hand. “Did he hold your hand? Paula, I love you. Or did he put his arm around you?”
“My heart isn’t a yo-yo, H. T. Please stop.”
“No. I’ve got to know how he said it. How can a guy say three words, go to Salt Lake, get on a plane, fly away, and leave you standing here for two years, waiting for him to get back?”
“Do we have to put ourselves through this?” she asked.
“What if I told you that I love you?”
“We said we weren’t going to get involved.”
“Is it the wrong accent, or should I say it louder? Paula, I love you.”
“Craig, I’m the only girl you’ve ever known. How do you know you love me?”
“The next thing you say is ‘Can’t we just be friends?’ Don’t say it. I need you, Paula. I can’t make it without you.”
She backed away from him, tears beginning to form. “Oh no! What have I gotten myself into?” She turned suddenly and ran for the stairs. He started after her, yelling at her to stop. But he was only halfway down when he saw her run outside. He sat down on the stairs and buried his head in his hands.
Sunday after church he met with her and apologized.
That night when he got home, he was told that his bishop from his home ward had called long distance for him. When Craig returned the call, the bishop asked him again about a mission.
“I don’t think so. Not now.”
“Physically how are you doing?”
“Better. We’re walking five miles a day.”
“This girl and me.”
“Oh. Look, Craig, I’m sending you a copy of the missionary lessons. Why don’t you look them over.”
Paula read the lessons over to find out what Kirby was teaching. They decided to try and memorize parts of the first discussion while they walked. One of them would hold the lessons while the other tried to repeat the lesson plan from memory.
The last dance they went to before Kirby was scheduled to be released from his mission, they were both quiet. During one of the slow dances, he realized he was trying to remember everything about her, the scent of her hair, the warmth of her next to him. She was more beautiful than the picture of two years ago.
“There might be nothing left between you and Kirby now,” Craig said. “Two years is a long time. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll be here waiting for you.”
“Sometimes I wish there were two of me,” she said.
“A few weeks ago, there was almost enough to make two of you. But not anymore.”
The next Saturday she left campus for the weekend to stay with Kirby and his parents at their home in Idaho.
When she got back to school, she called Craig up, and he walked over to her place.
“Well, how was it?”
“It was good, H.T.”
“Are you going to marry him?”
“I think so. Someday.”
He sat for a few minutes, silent and expressionless.
“Well, that about wraps up the summer doesn’t it?”
“I’ll never forget you,” she said.
“It’s funny you know. You told me about Kirby. At first I never believed I had a chance. But near the last I figured he didn’t have a chance. Funny, isn’t it? About a person’s attitude, I mean. It turns out I can do anything I set my mind to … except to keep you,” he said.
She threw her arms around him. He cherished the feeling of having her close.
Suddenly he pushed her away from him, held her hands in his, and said, “Good-bye, Paula.”
He took a long walk through campus. After a while he realized he was walking with a bad limp and that he was slouched over. In his mind he heard a voice barking out at him, “The tough get going when the going gets tough.”
He straightened up and began walking the way they had practiced.
“Hey, Elder Johnson,” somebody called at him from behind.
He turned around, “You talking to me?”
“Oh, sorry. I thought you were a missionary I knew in Ohio. He walked with a little limp too.”
“That wasn’t me.”
He turned around, walked a few feet more, stopped and turned back facing the guy who had called him.
“Hey, this Elder Johnson, was he a good missionary?”
“One of the best.”
“And his limp, it didn’t slow down his companions?”
“Are you kidding? We called him Johnson the Baptist.”
Craig began walking slowly homeward, going over in his mind the first discussion of the missionary lessons.