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chapter fourteen

     Cindy was silent during the short return trip to the mall, although the noise of the rush hour traffic on the busy street would have made conversation difficult in any case. When the two of them had finished locking their bikes for a second time, however, she spoke again.
     "So why is this so urgent, Trevor?" she asked, her tone clearly indicating that she was very unsure about their current course of action.
     "When we get there, not before," Trevor stated. "As General Custer said to his men, 'Trust me, I know what I'm doing!'"
     Cindy laughed, but it was a high, nervous sounding laugh, very different from the pleasant, almost musical laughter Trevor so enjoyed hearing from her. He pondered this as they entered the mall and began to make their way to the long corridor, hand in hand. He also noticed that Cindy was making no further effort to talk to him, and that she wasn't smiling at all.
     There's still tension here, thought Trevor. She's still not sure about all this. She MUST be feeling really horrible about what happened at the park. What I'm going to do should help, but maybe she needs even more. Maybe a really good laugh, from something better than that lame Custer joke, would help loosen her up and make her feel better. I've got to try: I've got to be totally in comedy mode when we start talking again.
     In the meantime, as they walked silently together through the mall corridors, Trevor tried to work out exactly what he would say when he had carried out his primary plan.
     At last they reached their destination: a gift shop on the long corridor, just past the center of the mall.
     "Here we are!" said Trevor, as he led her into the store, and elevated the setting on his comedy sensors to maximum.
     "What's so special about this place?" asked Cindy as she looked around.
     "It's just a good gift shop," answered Trevor, "with lots of pretty nice stuff at fairly reasonable prices. I've bought presents for my Mom here. Now I'm gonna buy something for you."
     "No, you don't have to do that!" said Cindy with feeling. "Especially after what I said to you before! I mean, it's really sweet that you want to, but-"
     "No buts!" Trevor interrupted. "I told you before, I'm gonna buy you presents on a regular basis. Well, it's time for the first one. And no more arguments about it!"
     "All right, we'll do it your way," said Cindy with a tentative smile, "and thanks, very much! So, what are you going to buy me?"
     Trevor had been listening carefully to every word Cindy was saying, trying to find something he could make a joke out of. So far she had been uncooperative, but this turned out not to matter: when the opportunity for a joke came, it was Trevor himself who provided the set-up line. He was in full comedy mode, so when the joke occurred to him, as he was speaking, he didn't stop to think; he just said it. The resulting naturalness of his delivery caught Cindy completely off guard, which added considerably to the joke's impact.
     "Well, they have a nice little selection of Christian jewelry here," said Trevor, in answer to Cindy's question. "I was thinking of something from that. But I want it to be something that you like. So take a look around at what they have. See if anything jumps out at you." He smiled only slightly as he immediately added, "If it does, I'll beat it with a stick."
     Cindy had taken a couple of steps into the first aisle as Trevor spoke, looking at the merchandise there, and at first it seemed that Trevor's last sentence had gone right past her.
     Then her semiserious demeanor abruptly dissolved into laughter. For the first two or three seconds she laughed almost silently, apparently having begun in mid-breath. Then she inhaled deeply, and her next spasm of laughter was loud enough to attract the attention of other customers in the store. Her hands went up to her mouth. A moment later she bent over at the waist, laughing even harder, her body actually shaking. Finally, she collapsed to a sitting position on the floor, continuing to shake with laughter.
     Trevor couldn't help laughing along with her as he closed the short distance between them, and as he did he was mentally pumping his fist and shouting, YES! YES! YES!! It was obvious now that there had, indeed, been considerable tension remaining in Cindy, and that she had been in urgent need of something to relieve it. Her emotions had been stretched tight, tight enough that the pinprick of a silly but well-timed little joke had ruptured it completely, had relieved the stress. Trevor's comedy quest had succeeded to a level even beyond his hopes.
     Finally Cindy's laughter began to subside, and Trevor extended his hand to her.
     "I'm sorry," said Cindy, still chuckling, as Trevor helped her back up. "I just kept imagining something jumping off the shelf, and you..." She began to pantomime the act of hitting something with a stick, and as she did she began laughing harder again. She went back to one knee, and a moment later she resumed her sitting position, shaking with laughter for a second time.
     "Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," chuckled Trevor, and he sat down beside Cindy. Each put an arm around the other, and they leaned against each other as they laughed together.
     When the laughter had run its course for the second time, Cindy brought up her hand and touched Trevor's face.
     "You really forgive me?" she asked.
     "Of course I do," Trevor answered. "I really don't even think there's anything to forgive. You were just being honest about how you felt. That's a good thing."
     "Well, yeah," replied Cindy, "but I could have given you the benefit of the doubt. I could have told you what I was feeling without acting so mean - and so stupid. I don't know why I did that, except...well, I guess I really do know. It's that I just...I can't get over that you could actually be Katie Mason's boyfriend, but you'd rather be with me instead. I believe it now," she added quickly. "I totally believe you really feel that way, and it makes me feel...well it has to be the best compliment anyone could ever possibly give me. But now it's like...like the whole thing isn't real, like I'm having some kind of hallucination, or I'm dreaming and I'm going to wake up."
     "I've got just the thing for you," Trevor said. He stood, then helped Cindy to her feet. "C'mon, over here."
     He led Cindy to a glass cabinet adjacent to the checkout counter - the Christian jewelry display. A middle-aged female clerk joined them.
     "You two all right?" the clerk asked. "For a minute there I thought I might have to call security."
     "We're fine," Trevor replied. "We just needed a good laugh, that's all. Sorry if we caused any problems."
     "No harm done," the clerk assured them. "Now, may I help you with anything?"
     "Well, I'm definitely going to buy SOMETHING here," Trevor answered. "I just don't know what yet. Hmmmm." He thought for a few seconds, then looked at Cindy. "Do you like rings?" he asked.
     "I don't usually wear rings," Cindy answered, then quickly added, "I mean, I'd wear one if YOU gave it to me! I'd never take it off! I-"
     "How 'bout a bracelet?" Trevor interrupted.
     "Yeah, that would be better than a ring, for sure," Cindy replied. "But you don't have to-"
     "Uh-uh-uh!" Trevor said, raising a finger as he interrupted her again. "No more arguments, remember?"
     "Yes, sir!" she responded, giving him a little salute.
     "That's better," said Trevor with a smile. "Now then..." He looked over the selection of bracelets for a few seconds. "Whoa!" he suddenly exclaimed. "Hand me the stick, something just jumped out at me!"
     Cindy burst into laughter. "Stop it!" she pleaded as she laughed. "I'm still not recovered from the last time! I'll end up on the floor again!"
     "You'll survive," replied Trevor. Then he pointed to one of the bracelets and said to the clerk, "We'd like to see that one, right there." It was a silver bracelet composed of an alternating series of small hearts and crosses.
     "Good choice!" commented the clerk, as she pulled out a set of keys. "That's one of my favorite things we carry. And I'm not just saying that, it's true!" The clerk found the correct key, opened the cabinet and handed Trevor the bracelet. Trevor showed it to Cindy.
     "What do you think?" he asked.
     "Ooh, it's beautiful! I like it a lot!" she answered. She looked at one of the two attached tags. "Oh, but it's a seven and a half inch," she said in disappointment. "That's too big for me. It'll slip off."
     Trevor turned back to the clerk. "You don't happen to have this in a smaller size, do you?" he asked hopefully as he handed it back to her.
     "I think we might," she replied. She replaced the bracelet and locked the display case, then moved toward the checkout counter. "There's only room for one of each item in the display. There are extras of some of them behind the counter. Let me check." She looked at Cindy. "What size do you need?"
     "A six and three quarters would be perfect," she answered. "I have a couple of other bracelets that length. But a six and a half or even a seven would be close enough."
     The clerk selected another key from her key ring and opened a sliding door behind the counter. She stooped down and rummaged around for a minute, then stood up straight with a look of triumph on her face.
     "Got it!" she said. "Six and three quarters! In fact, that's the only other size it comes in."
     "Yes!" replied Trevor, pumping his fist. "We'll take it!"
     The three of them moved to their proper positions at the checkout station, and Trevor pulled out his wallet as the clerk rang up the purchase.
     "With tax, that comes to $23.11," she said.
     "What?" Cindy exclaimed. "I didn't look at the price tag! I had no idea...Look, Trevor, it's all right to buy me something, but that's too expensive!"
     "No, it isn't," Trevor replied, as he handed the clerk twenty five dollars. "In fact, the price was one of the things I liked about it." He set his wallet on the counter, then reached into his right front pocket and pulled out a handful of change. "I've got the eleven cents," he said to the clerk, and gave her a dime and a penny. "Don't bother with a bag or anything. She's gonna wear it right away."
     "Good enough," said the clerk. "Here's your change, and your receipt."
     She quickly removed the two tags from the bracelet while Trevor put the bills and receipt in his wallet, and the wallet back in his pocket. Then the clerk handed him the bracelet and the detached price tag.
     "Thanks a lot," the clerk said. "Have a good evening."
     "Thank YOU for your help," Trevor replied, as he shoved the tag into his pocket. He turned to Cindy. "Your hand, please," he requested. She obediently held her right hand out. Trevor opened the bracelet's catch, placed it carefully around Cindy's wrist, and snapped the catch closed again. It was an excellent fit.
     "Thank you so much, Trevor," said Cindy with feeling. "I'll never take it off!" Then her smile was replaced by a slight frown. "But why was it so important for me to have this right now? Why did we have to rush back here?"
     "I wanted you to have something from me that you could see and touch when I'm not there," Trevor answered, beginning the basic monologue he had hurriedly worked out during their walk to the gift shop. "Having it be something you can wear all the time makes it even better. I have no idea why, but you obviously have a self-image problem. After that little incident in the park, I was concerned that you're still not completely convinced about my feelings for you - like you said, it doesn't seem real to you." He held up his hand as she tried to interrupt. "I know what you said, and I'm not really doubting that. I just wanted an insurance policy, and I didn't want to wait to have it in place. And I wanted to be something that costs a decent chunk of money, so you can't possibly question my sincerity in giving it to you.
     "From now on," he continued, taking her right hand and holding it in front of her, "whenever you get the slightest feeling of doubt, or unreality, or that it's too good to be true, anything at all, you just look at that bracelet. Let it remind you that I really do care about you every bit as much as I say you do, and that all of this is very, very real. Maybe it'll even help you to understand that the reason I feel so special about you is because you really are that special."
     Cindy said nothing, but her most loving smile was on her face, and tears were in her eyes. Then she threw her arms around Trevor's neck and hugged him hard, and Trevor hugged back with equal enthusiasm. As she finally released Trevor, she kissed him tenderly on the cheek. Then she gazed lovingly into his eyes.
     "Thank you so much," she said emotionally. "For the bracelet, and for wanting to be my boyfriend. I...I just can't believe-"
     "UH-UH!" Trevor interrupted. "Look at the bracelet! Not believing isn't allowed anymore, remember?"
     "I didn't really mean it that way," replied Cindy. "It was just an expression." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "But you know, you're right. I shouldn't ever say or even think anything like that at all. It WOULD be easy to start doubting again." She nodded slowly, breaking into a big smile. "I think this bracelet was a really good idea, Trevor. I don't know how you knew that, but thanks again!"
     "I could just tell," said Trevor with a shrug. "The way you could tell that I was gonna shoot the puck forehanded - and that I wanted to talk about Cory, even when I thought I didn't." He pointed to the bracelet. "I'm suddenly even more glad that that thing has a Christian tie-in; because, the more I think about it, the more I think that maybe our meeting wasn't just a coincidence. I think maybe God meant it to happen. Your bracelet can not only be a symbol of how I feel about you, but of our destiny too."
     "Oooh," said Cindy softly. "I hope that's true, but it certainly is romantic!" She held her hands in front of her, and touched the bracelet with her left hand. "I think I like this even more now!"
     Suddenly she noticed the watch on her left wrist. Her jaw dropped and her eyes widened.
     "Trevor!" she exclaimed in sudden panic as she stared at the watch. "It's quarter to five! We're not gonna make it! Oh, my mom's gonna have a cow! And she'll be mad at you, too!"
     "We can make it if we ride fast!" replied Trevor. "Let's fly!"

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