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chapter nine

     As Trevor and Cindy strolled back out into the mall, hand in hand, Trevor decided the time had come to ask the question that was foremost on his mind.
     "Cindy," he said tentatively. She looked at him with an affectionate smile. "There's something I gotta ask you about. It's the only thing I can think of that might still mess up our being boyfriend-girlfriend, and I need to know."
     Cindy's smile was suddenly replaced by a look of concern. "What is it?" she asked softly.
     "Well," said Trevor, "see, I'm a Christian-"
     "So am I!" interrupted Cindy. "That can't be a problem!"
     "Wait a minute, let me finish. I'm a total Bible-believing Christian who takes his faith and his commitment to Jesus Christ seriously. Obviously I'm not the super-extreme type who thinks all fun is evil or something. But my faith is very important to me, and I don't think I could really fall in love with someone who didn't have beliefs that were at least very close to mine. Which is why I need to bring this up now: I'm in the process of falling in love with you, and pretty soon it'll be too late to put the brakes on without both of us getting hurt really bad. So I need to know where you stand religionwise."
     "I do believe in Jesus," said Cindy in an anxious manner. "I believe in the Bible. Really!"
     "Where do you go to Church?"
     "Ah...actually, we don't have a regular Church right now." For a moment Trevor's heart sank, but then Cindy continued, "We did in Minneapolis. A Baptist Church. But for a while after we moved here my Mom was either working on Sunday or too tired from working so much the other six days. In June we finally started going, but we tried a couple of different ones and Mom didn't like either one. Now she's looking for another one to try."
     "Why don't you guys try MY Church?" said Trevor excitedly. "It's not Baptist exactly, but it's not really ANYTHING exactly. It's independent. It was started a few years ago by a group of people from regular Churches who thought their denominations had gotten too liberal and wanted something more traditional. Our Pastor was a Lutheran, but his own studies led him away from some of the modern Lutheran teaching. We used to be Methodists, until...well, that's a story for another time. But the point is, I think there would be a good chance you guys would like it. What do you think?"
     "It sounds good to me," replied Cindy. "Although, right now, anything that involves being with you would sound good. But even without that, it still sounds good. What kind of music do they have?"
     "Different kinds on different weeks," Trevor answered. At this point they reached the mall's long corridor. Trevor pointed with his thumb down the corridor toward the center of the mall and looked at Cindy quizzically. She nodded, and they turned in that direction.
     "Our Church's building," Trevor continued, "used to belong to a different congregation that built and moved to a bigger one. It's fairly small, and it only had a little console organ with speakers, not one with the big pipes. Sometimes we use that during worship and sing traditional hymns. Other Sundays we use a piano we also have and do stuff that's a little more contemporary. On still other Sundays we add other instruments - guitars mostly, but sometimes drums and other instruments too - and do some really upbeat, modern-type stuff. Not loud electric guitars or anything, you know, but fun stuff to hear and sing. Mixing it up like that keeps our services from getting stale, you know?"
     "Yeah, I do," said Cindy. "It always seemed kinda boring to me to do Church the same way every week. I like your Church's idea."
     "It never actually occurred to me before we joined this Church," said Trevor. "But once I had the chance to compare the two, it was no contest. By the way, there's a good youth program, too. Our next meeting is a week from Saturday. You could come to those with me even if your Mom decides she doesn't want you guys to join."
     "I'll talk to her about it," said Cindy. "I'm sure she'll at least want to try it."
     "Great!" replied Trevor. "It's called Holy Trinity Fellowship, on the corner of 16th and Hopkins. It's not real close to where you live, of course, but it's not super far, and it's worth the drive. You can have your Mom call my parents to get all the details."
     "I'll do that!" Cindy declared. She paused. "You know, you had me scared for a minute there. I've had it in the back of my mind all along that this is all too good to be true, and just when it seemed like we were both feeling so good that nothing could possibly go wrong, you stared talking like maybe it might not work out between us after all. For a second I felt like I was getting sick."
     Trevor released Cindy's hand and put his arm around her, giving her a squeeze.
     "I'm really sorry," he said with emotion. "It's just that...well, like I said, my faith is really important to me. But even if you hadn't been religious, or if you were in a completely different religion, I would have given you every possible chance to become a Christian. I wouldn't have just dumped you or anything."
     "Thanks for saying that," said Cindy. "I'm curious, though: is it just because of your parents that being a Christian is so important, or is there a story behind it?"
     "That's, ah, an interesting question," replied Trevor, who suddenly began to feel uncomfortable. "There actually is a story." He paused. "I wasn't really going to bring it up on our first date, but I guess I owe you an answer, since I scared you like that. It's...it's about my brother."
     "You have a brother, huh?" said Cindy with a smile. "Is he as cute as you?"
     Trevor didn't answer. He stopped walking, took his arm from Cindy's shoulder and turned to face her. He looked away for a moment, looked back and opened his mouth to speak, then closed his mouth and looked away again. This time when he looked back, Cindy's smile had vanished, and her eyes had widened.
     "Oh, I'm so sorry, Trevor," she said, softly but with feeling. "He died, didn't he?"
     Trevor nodded. "It's been over three years," he said, "and it's still hard to talk about it."
      "Why don't we go sit by the fountain, and you can tell me, if you want to?" suggested Cindy. She extended her left hand. Trevor nodded, then took her hand in his, and they began to walk again.
     In the center of the mall, at the junction of the long corridor and the middle cross corridor, there was a little fountain surrounded by a mix of flat wooden benches and padded chair-type benches. Trevor and Cindy had been about forty feet away from this area when they stopped. Now they walked the remaining distance to it in silence, and sat down together on one of the chair-benches.
     "I guess I don't really need to tell you ALL about my brother right now," said Trevor, looking at the fountain. "All you really need to know is that after he died, my parents decided we weren't taking out faith in God seriously enough, and I agreed, and we ended up changing from a Methodist Church that was less committed to the Bible than we had become, to a new one that was more in line with our new, deeper faith in Jesus. So, that's why that's so important to me."
     In spite of how well he and Cindy had hit it off in such a short time, Trevor was now acutely aware of the fact that he had only met this person the day before, and the idea of telling her the intimate details of such a personal matter so soon was making him increasingly uncomfortable.
     He turned his head to look at Cindy, and saw her looking back at him. She seemed to be studying his face. She gazed into Trevor's eyes for a few seconds, then finally spoke.
     "Is that really all you want to tell me?" she inquired. "If it is, that's fine, but..."
     "But what?" asked Trevor.
     "Well," she answered, "I'm not sure why, but I just have the feeling that you want to tell me more."
     Trevor looked at her for a moment, then looked away. His immediate, instinctive reaction to Cindy's comment was that she was just being nosy. It was the first negative feeling he had had toward her, and he suddenly began to get angry at himself for feeling that way. It wasn't fair to her. Granted, he didn't know her well enough yet to know it WASN'T true, but she certainly deserved the benefit of the doubt. Instinctive thoughts weren't always right. After all, when he had first looked at Cindy, he had thought she wasn't unusually pretty.
     His mind jumped back to the evening before. He remembered how he had been caught by surprise by his own thoughts and feelings about Cindy, how he had been attracted to her without even being consciously aware of it at first.
     Could it be happening again? Trevor asked himself. Is it possible that I really DO want to tell her everything about Cory, that my reluctance is just on the surface? Could she be right?
     He looked back at Cindy. The expression of concentration was gone from her face, replaced by a look of concern. As their eyes met, she smiled at him, a smile that conveyed sympathy as well as affection.
     Oh, what an amazing smile! he thought, as he marveled at it yet again. It's like she's smiling her love right into my soul!
     And suddenly Trevor realized that she had, indeed, been right: he DID want to tell her everything, wanted to pour out his heart and mind to her, holding nothing back. He gathered his thoughts for a moment, then took a deep breath.
     "It was kinda strange," he began softly, "because there were times when he was an incredible pain in the neck. But all the rest of the time, he was the best friend I've ever had.
     "His name was Cory, and he was only thirteen months younger than me, and he was a really fascinating person. He always had ideas about everything, and he had a hard time taking 'no' for an answer when one of his ideas wasn't accepted. He could drive you nuts trying to change your mind so you would do something his way.
     "But the thing was, a lot of his ideas were really good. Like when one of our neighbors, an older guy, offered me a job cutting his lawn four summers ago, and I took it, Cory said I should try to get more lawn mowing jobs, and make a business out of it. So I did, and I've been making decent money doing that and other things ever since. Cory also suggested I should rake leaves in the fall to make money. But I figured out for myself that I should shovel snow in the winter.
     "After I had been making some money for a couple of months, I decided I wanted to give some of my money to charity. But it was Cory who thought of sponsoring a child through one of those child organizations, and making it a family project, with all of us contributing - I also have a little sister, by the way. Tracy. She's ten."
     Trevor paused. He hadn't talked this much about Cory to anyone for some time, and even though he now wanted to do it, it was becoming difficult. Part of him suddenly wanted to end it at this point for now, and resume at some future time.
     But then Cindy took his hand in both of hers and held it, gently but securely.
     "It's all right," she said softly, with a little smile. "Take your time. I'm not going anywhere."
     Trevor couldn't help smiling back, and again his reluctance to talk abruptly left him.
     "I tend to be kind of impulsive," he continued. "Part of my emotionalism, I guess. When I was younger I was pretty wild, 'cause lots of times I'd just do what I felt like doing at that moment, without thinking about it much - or at all. Cory was exactly the opposite. He was always in control, always thoughtful. I could sometimes lose my temper in a heartbeat, but Cory hardly ever got mad.
     "In a way, it made it worse when he would pester one of us, or all of us, when one of his ideas didn't get accepted. He had almost infinite patience. He wouldn't get mad, and he wouldn't give up.
     "But he also never gave up trying to teach me not to be so emotional, and to think more before I acted. Eventually, when I did something wrong I dreaded facing Cory as much as facing my parents. In fact, probably the main reason he wanted me to do the lawn mowing and the other stuff was so I'd have less free time to get in trouble. To some extent it did work, but he and my parents all had limited overall success trying to control me. Until..."
     At this point, Trevor's current emotions began to slip out of his control. He fought back against the tears that suddenly began to well up in his eyes, and forced himself to continue.
     "He was even smaller for his age than I was, so that he looked like he was two or three years younger than me instead of just one, and I used to kid him about it sometimes. He hardly ever got mad about it, but he was always trying to prove that he could do anything I could do, like that was his way of getting even for my teasing.
     "There's a big park in the next county that we used to go to a few times every year, from spring to fall. It has a bunch of picnic areas, but there was one that was our favorite. There's a big swing set and a bigger slide and other playground stuff, and there's a nice little hiking trail that starts and ends on opposite sides of the area.
     "There was also a great climbing tree that Cory and I used to climb together. It had a nice low branch to grab onto and pull yourself up, and two more branches you could get to real easy from there. There was also another branch higher up that we couldn't reach at first, but as we got older, I got to where I could jump up from the third branch and grab it. But our parents warned us that we could only climb on the three lower branches, that anything higher was strictly off limits."
     Trevor suddenly stopped and looked away from Cindy. He had told this story several times before, to Pastors and counselors and friends, and it was always difficult, but there was something he had always done to make the telling somewhat less agonizing. This time, however, he found himself uncertain how to proceed from this point.
     "If you want to stop for now, it's OK," said Cindy gently. "I don't mind waiting if you don't think you're ready."
     Trevor looked back at her, looked directly into her greenish-brown eyes. She looked back with her affectionate smile, and Trevor smiled back slightly, even as his eyes filled with fresh tears.
     She really cares about me! thought Trevor. This totally amazing girl really cares about me!
     He squeezed her hand tightly, looked into her smile for a few more seconds, then started speaking again.
     "Three years ago in May, on our first trip of the year out there - and our last trip ever, as it turned out - I decided to climb to the fourth branch of the tree anyway, in spite of my parents' rule. I just figured that they were treating me like a baby, that I was big enough now to do it. So when Cory and Tracy went to play on the swings and stuff, I went to the tree, planning to go up to the fourth branch and come back down before anyone saw me.
     "I didn't take the precaution of looking back after I was in the tree to make sure no one was watching me when I went for it. I don't know how he got there, but just after I had successfully pulled myself up to the fourth branch, there was Cory looking up at me and saying he was going to tell on me. I asked him what it would take to buy his silence, and he said I had to let him come up there too.
     "I told him absolutely not, it was too dangerous, he was still too small, that he could go ahead and tell on me if he wanted to. I was bluffing, actually; I was hoping he would come up with a different payoff. He told me I didn't have to watch, that I could just go away and he would do it, and neither of us would tell. I told him no again, and made him go back to the rest of the family with me.
     "But a little later Tracy asked me to push her on one of the swings and do 'underducks.' That's where you give the swing a big push and then run under it while it's up high. For some reason Tracy got a big kick out of that. The second time I did it...the climbing tree was just a little off line from the direction I was running in, and suddenly I heard Cory yell, and I looked at the tree and saw him falling."
     Trevor stopped again, fighting valiantly against his emotions. He didn't want to start crying in a public place like this, especially in front of Cindy. Finally, he continued.
     "I've heard that some people say that at a time like that, everything moves sort of in slow-motion. But that's not true, or at least it wasn't for me. It didn't take any time at all. It was over right away: he yelled, he fell, he hit the ground...and he didn't move. It was horrible how fast it all happened. And it was all over: he landed wrong, and his neck was broken. He died instantly."
     And then his emotions were no longer controllable. He pulled his hand from Cindy's grasp, put his arm around her, rested his head against hers, and cried. It was a soft, gentle kind of crying, not all out sobbing, but it was enough to alleviate his emotional buildup. Cindy said nothing, but she stroked Trevor's arm with her hand, slowly and repeatedly. It was a simple and natural action, but somehow it soothed him. Within half a minute his emotions were back to a controllable level, and his crying had ceased.
     He took his arm from around Cindy and sat up straight again. He searched his pockets briefly, then shook his head.
     "Forgot to bring Kleenex," he muttered.
     "Here," said Cindy, placing one in his hand. "I always carry a few with me."
     "Thanks," replied Trevor. He began wiping his eyes. "I guess you must have been a Boy Scout, huh?" Cindy made an "I don't get it' face, so Trevor added, "The Boy Scout motto is 'Be Prepared'."
     Cindy smiled. "Sorry, I didn't know that."
     "It was lame anyway," said Trevor. He looked again at Cindy's smiling face, and thought about what had just happened. "Besides," he continued, "I'm the one who should be sorry. Even though you're my girlfriend now, we don't really know each other that well yet. I had no right to dump all that on you on our first date. I should have waited. I'm sorry."
     "Oh, no," Cindy assured him. "It's all right! It's like my Mom and Toby tell me, 'Never hide from your feelings. If something's bothering you, tell someone about it, even if it's something you've talked about before. Always get it out in the open, where we can deal with it together.' You obviously needed to talk about Cory again, and I'm glad I could help you!"
     Trevor looked into Cindy's eyes again, then took her hand and held it tightly. He smiled slightly, but then his eyes began to tear up again.
     "You're right, but you're wrong," he said softly. "I never told anyone before." Cindy looked at him with a puzzled expression. "I mean, I've told about Cory before, a few times...but I never told anyone that I climbed to the fourth branch, and Cory saw me. Everybody just assumed that he decided on his own to try to climb up there. I wanted to tell someone the truth, but I just couldn't. Till now. I don't know why I was able to tell you, but I'm glad I did. Well, not GLAD. You know."
     "Oh, Trevor," said Cindy with feeling. "Have you been blaming yourself all this time?"
     "Part of me, yeah," answered Trevor.
     "But you had no idea what was going to happen!" Cindy asserted. "If you had, you never would have gone up there! And you warned him not to try it! It wasn't your fault!"
     "Yeah, all that's true," replied Trevor. "But still, I was doing something wrong, and if I hadn't, my brother might still be alive. I believe that he's with the Lord, and that I'll see him again someday, and believing that has made it a little less hard to live with. But it's still been hard. I mean, I've gotten over a lot of it, and ever since then I've taken God more seriously, and tried more to think about what I'm doing, and to not do wrong things, partly to try to make up for what I did, and partly to kinda honor his memory, you know? And I'm basically a happy person. But I've never been able to completely forgive myself."
     "You will," said Cindy. "I'll help you."
     "You already have," Trevor assured her. "I already feel like a weight's been lifted off of me. Or part of it, anyway. Thanks." He gave her hand another squeeze. "You're such an amazing person, and the more I'm with you, the more amazing I find out you are."
     Cindy blushed a bit. Thank you," she said. "I'm not, but thank you."
     "You know," replied Trevor, "that's one of the most amazing things about you, that you really have no idea how amazingly special you are."
     "Stop it!" Cindy chuckled, turning redder.
     "OK, " Trevor shrugged. "I'll never bring it up again."
     "No, no," said Cindy quickly. "I didn't mean it that way! I-" She suddenly stopped as she saw Trevor's face break into a mischievous smile. She playfully punched him on the upper arm. "Oh, you...you...you amazing person, you!" she said, and finally gave in to her obvious desire to laugh.
     "Hey!" Trevor chuckled. "Quit stealing my adjectives!"
     "Sorry!" said Cindy. "What would you prefer? 'Wonderful'? 'Fantastic'? 'Marvelous'?"
     "'Lucky'," replied Trevor. "Definitely 'lucky'. Being your boyfriend makes me the luckiest guy in the whole world!"
     Cindy looked at Trevor lovingly, then nestled her head into his shoulder.
     "Ohhhhh!" she said.
     YES!!! thought Trevor.

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