“So my cousin is getting married on the beach this summer,” Lars said in his usual boisterous voice as he adjusted the heights of the microphones at the front of 170 Evans Hall. “She wants everyone to wear beach clothes. That just seems weird for a wedding.”
“Yeah,” Tabitha said as she plucked strings on her guitar, paying attention to a battery-operated tuner and tightening or loosening the strings accordingly. “You don’t wear beach clothes to a wedding.”
As the worship team’s roadie, I arrived early each week to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, to help Lars, Tabitha, Brent, and the others on the worship band set up their equipment. I got this position by virtue of having a big car, a 1989 Ford Bronco, that could fit a lot of instruments and amplifiers in the back. We used to pull my car right up to the building, someone told me at the beginning of the year that it would be okay, but a few weeks ago I got a a parking ticket for having done so. Since then, I had parked in the nearest legal space, about two hundred feet away, and we had had to carry the music equipment a much farther distance. I felt annoyed every time I drove into that parking lot and paid two dollars for evening parking, because it reminded me of the time I got a ticket, so far the only ticket I had ever received.
“So are you gonna wear shorts and flip-flops to the wedding?” Brent asked.
“I don’t know,” Lars replied.
“I’m gonna ask people to wear jackets to my wedding,” I said. Brent, Lars, and Tabitha looked at me confused. “Because hell will have frozen over if I ever get married.”
After a second, the others chuckled and groaned. “Come on, dude,” Lars said. “Don’t say that.” I shrugged. These days, it certainly did feel like I would never meet anyone special. It had been five months since Haley Channing rejected me, and nothing had happened to give me hope that things would change any time soon. I had great friends, I was enjoying being a youth group leader at church, but I had not met any girls who seemed interested in me that way. The University of Jeromeville was full of cute girls; they either did not like me back, or they already had boyfriends. I saw graffiti on a bathroom wall a few days ago that said, “Jeromeville girls are like parking spaces: the good ones are either taken or handicapped.” I had never before resonated so well with bathroom graffiti.
A few hours later, after JCF ended, I was helping the worship band unload equipment to its usual storage place, Lars’ garage on J Street. Tabitha said, “Are you guys going to Dave and Janet’s tonight? They’re gonna hang out and play games.”
“I’m going,” Brent replied.
“I hadn’t heard,” I said. “But that sounds like fun. Sure, I’m in.”
“I think I’ll pass,” Lars added. “I need to be up early tomorrow. Gonna go to the Great Blue Lake with Armando for the day.”
“That sounds like fun!” I said. The Great Blue Lake attracted tourists from around the world. I was about a hundred miles away, and I had never been there or seen it. Hopefully someday.
“It looks like we’re done,” Tabitha said, looking at everything in the garage. “I’m gonna head to Dave and Janet’s now. Greg, you’re coming?”
“Sure. But I’m gonna go in and use the bathroom first.”
“All right. See you there!”
Dave and Janet McAllen were older than me, around thirtyish. They worked in full-time ministry as the lead staff of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, overseeing the campus group along with a few other recent graduates who were paid part time. In addition to their duties as leaders of an organization, part of their job also involved building relationships with university students, as a way to create a welcoming organization where students could learn about Christianity and Jesus Christ.
I talked to Xander, one of Lars’ housemates, for a few minutes before I left, then I drove to the McAllens’ house on West 15th Street. It was almost ten o’clock by the time I finally got there. I walked to the door and knocked.
After almost a minute, someone opened the door, but it was not either of the McAllens, or Tabitha, or Brent. A freshman girl named Carrie Valentine stood on the other side of the door, wearing blue denim overalls with a light purple shirt underneath. Carrie was somewhat tall, with straight brown hair extending a little past her shoulders and dark brown eyes that smiled at me. I had met Carrie a few times before, but I had not talked to her much. Music played faintly in the background.
“Hi, Greg!” Carrie said, smiling. “Come on in!”
The McAllens lived in half of a duplex with roommates, including Cheryl who was also on JCF staff; this house was commonly referred to as the Staff House by JCF students. The front door opened into a hallway, with bedrooms on the left and the living area to the right. I followed Carrie toward the living room and kitchen and looked around. The music was coming from a stereo in the living room, playing a local radio station. The house appeared empty except for Carrie and me, which surprised me. I was under the impression that a large group of people would be there. Tabitha and Brent had left Lars’ house about five minutes before me, and many others had left JCF earlier and not had to unpack music equipment. Surely they should be here by now. “Where is everyone?” I asked.
“They walked to the store to get snacks,” Carrie explained. “They just left a minute ago. I said I’d stay back in case anyone else showed up.”
“That makes sense,” I replied. “So how’s your quarter going?”
“Hard! But it’s good. I’m taking this really fun class for my major.”
“What is your major?”
“That’s cool,” I said. Carrie was the first design major I had ever met, and I was not sure exactly what that was, other than that it probably involved designing things.
“What about you?” Carrie asked. “What’s your major?”
“Eww. I was never very good at math. I take it you are?”
“Yeah. It just makes sense to me.”
“Do you know what you want to do with your major?”
“I’m still trying to figure that out,” I said. “I always thought I didn’t want to be a teacher, but one of my professors thinks I would make a good teacher, so he set me up with an internship helping out in a high school class. I’m doing that this quarter”
“That sounds so cool! What’s it like?”
“It’s been good so far. I’m just walking around helping students when they have questions. And I’m taking notes on how the teacher teaches, because I’ll have to write a short paper at the end of the year.”
“So do you think you want to be a teacher now?”
“I don’t know. I want to look into all the options. Another professor told me about these summer research internships that other schools offer, and students from anywhere in the country can apply to, where you do research in small groups with a professor supervising.”
“So, like, math research? How does that work?”
“Proving new theorems and stuff like that, I think,” I explained. “I’ll find out. I’ll be going to Oregon for eight weeks this summer. I applied to four of these programs, I got into two of them, and I chose the one at Grandvale State University because it’s closer. And also my great-aunt and uncle live nearby.”
“That’s so cool! Oregon is nice. Are you excited?”
“I am. I’ve been to Oregon twice before, but I haven’t been to Grandvale specifically. It’ll be nice to be somewhere new. And it’ll be nice to learn more about what grad school in math will be like, to know whether or not that’s what I want to do.”
“Do you know what you want to do with your design degree?”
“Interior design,” Carrie answered. “I’ve always been interested in how other people’s houses look.”
“That’s cool. I’ve never really thought about what kind of education goes into that.”
I was vaguely aware of the music still playing in the background. The song on the radio changed to a familiar-sounding song that opened with a guitar, strumming back and forth between two chords, including a note that did not usually harmonize with the other notes in those chords. A female voice began singing. Whatever this song was, I knew I had heard it before, but not in some time. “Eww, I hate this song,” Carrie said.
“What is it?” I asked. “I know I’ve heard it before, but I can’t place it.”
“‘Here’s Where The Story Ends,’ by the Sundays. Something about it just always bothered me. I can’t really explain it.”
Right after I heard Carrie name the song, I heard the girl on the radio, who I would learn years later was named Harriet Wheeler, sing the line containing the title, followed by the line “It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year.” “Okay, I remember the song now,” I said. This part sounds familiar.”
“I never liked her voice. And I could never tell what she was saying. It sounded like ‘telephone ear’ to me.”
“Telephone ear,” I said. “That’s a good one. What is she saying, anyway? ‘Terrible year?’”
“I think that’s it. Seriously, do you mind if I turn it off? I really don’t like it.”
“Okay,” I said, although now that I recognized the song, I realized that I never particularly disliked it. It was kind of catchy. Carrie turned the music off entirely. “What about you?” I asked. “Are you doing anything exciting this summer?”
“Just going home. Probably getting a job.”
“Where are you from?”
“Westridge. It’s between Bay City and San Tomas.”
“Oh, yeah, I kind of know where that is.”
“Nothing exciting like you going to Oregon, though.”
“Thanks! I hope it’s exciting. I’m kind of nervous, too.”
“Just because it’s something new. And I’ve made a lot of new friends here this year, and I won’t be around them.”
“Yeah. But you’ll make new friends there, right?”
“I hope so.”
I heard a knock at the door a minute later. “Come in!” Carrie called out. Todd Chevallier and Ajeet Tripathi walked in. Carrie said hello to them, and as all of them started talking, I felt a bit of disappointment that my time to talk to Carrie alone was over. A minute later, Dave and Janet McAllen, Cheryl, Tabitha, and several others returned carrying grocery bags full of snacks.
“We’re back,” Dave said as the group sat in the living room. “Hey, Greg,” he said, noticing that new people had arrived. “Ajeet. Todd.’
“Hi,” I said.
“So I was thinking, maybe, let’s play Pictionary first?” Janet suggested. That’s a fun, easy game. And then we can play something else later if we get tired of that.” People responded in the affirmative. Janet got the Pictionary box and placed it on the coffee table. “I need to go find pencils and scratch paper,” she said. “You guys divide into teams.”
Pictionary was a fairly simple party game in which one player would have to draw something, silently, without speaking or writing words, and that player’s teammates would have to guess what was being drawn in a certain amount of time. I looked at Carrie, since she was still standing next to me, at the same time that Tabitha and Brent looked at us. “We’re a team?” Tabitha suggested, pointing at the four of us.
“Sure,” I replied, nodding.
After Janet finished setting up the game, we rolled the die to see who would go first. The team consisting of Dave, Eddie Baker, Autumn Davies, and a freshman girl whom I had not met went first. Dave drew a stick figure with a very prominent ear; he kept circling the ear and pointing. “Ear! Earring! Ear wax! Eardrum!” others on his team shouted; none was correct. Time ran out, and Dave’s team did not get to advance on the board.
“Earlobe!” Dave said. “Come on!”
“Oh,” Autumn replied. “It looked like he was wearing hoop earrings!”
“It’s our turn,” Tabitha said. “Who’s gonna draw for us?”
We all looked at each other. Carrie’s deep brown eyes met mine, and I looked away quickly. “I’ll draw,” I said, almost immediately wondering if I would regret having spoken up. I took the pencil, drew a card, and silently read the word I had to draw. Sheep.
Brent turned the timer over, and I drew a circle for the head, then a fluffy body. “Cloud,” Brent said. As soon as I put four legs on the fluffy body, Carrie shouted, “Sheep!”
“Yes!” I said. Carrie smiled excitedly, and I gave her a high five.
“How did you two get that so fast?” Tabitha asked.
“It’s clearly a sheep!” Carrie explained, gesturing excitedly to the drawing. “It’s got all the wool, all curly like this, and it has legs!”
“Thank you!” I said, smiling. Carrie smiled back. I rolled 5 on the die and moved our piece ahead five spaces. Pictionary was not normally my best game, but our team worked together unusually well that night, and we ended up winning.
A few people left after we finished Pictionary, and not too long after that, Carrie said that she was leaving too. “I have a lot of homework to do tomorrow, and I don’t want to be up too late,” she said. “It’s already almost midnight.”
“Good luck with that,” I replied. “It was good talking to you earlier.”
“Yeah!” Carrie replied, smiling. “I’ll see you before you leave, but I hope you enjoy Oregon!”
“Thanks.” I smiled back. “Have a good weekend!”
I stayed at Dave and Janet’s house for a while after Carrie left. Janet asked me what Carrie meant when she mentioned Oregon, so I explained about my internship to the others. I had mentioned to some of them that I was applying to these programs, but I had not told everyone that I had been accepted.
Several of the people at the party would be going to China for a month this summer, on a mission trip sponsored by Intervarsity, the parent organization of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. Someone asked how fundraising was going. I had received several prayer letters about this trip over the last few weeks, from many of the students going on the trip; since I knew all of them, I made one lump sum donation of $118.24. In the memo line of the check, I had written, “This is the day the Lord has made. Psalm 118:24.”
“It’s funny, Greg,” Eddie said. “At the last meeting for the China trip, we were going over fundraising totals, and every time we look at the numbers, it’s always, like, whatever dollars, and twenty-four cents.”
“Because of me,” I said, laughing.
“Yeah. I’ve never seen anyone do that before, with the Bible verse.”
“It just came to me. I was trying to decide how much to give, and I had read that verse recently.”
“That’s cool. That’s why you’re a math guy, always seeing numbers.”
I eventually said goodbye to everyone and left the party around 12:30; things seemed to be winding down by then. I had a midterm in my computer science class Monday that I needed to study for at some point over the weekend. I had the radio playing as I was driving home, but as I lay in bed, the song playing in my mind was Here’s Where The Story Ends, not anything I had heard on the drive home. I did not know every word and every sound of the song, so the same few lines I did know, like the part about the terrible year, kept playing over and over in my head. I kind of wanted to hate the song now that I knew Carrie hated the song, but I also found it too catchy to hate that much.
A lot of great things had happened this school year, but it also felt like a terrible year in some ways. Haley had rejected me, I had often been left out of the cliques at JCF, and I had come to realize that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my mathematics degree. But maybe things were turning around. I had been invited to hang out with those people tonight, so I was not completely on the outside. I was exploring options for my career. I was making new friends in different places, and maybe one of these new connections would lead to something special. Maybe it would involve Carrie. Maybe here was not where the story ends; maybe here was where the new story begins. Maybe this was not such a terrible year. Or not such a telephone ear, whatever that means.
Author’s note: What’s a song you absolutely can’t stand?
I’m not going to name mine, but I will say that there is a certain band that was very popular during the time in which DLTDGB is set which I have never mentioned once in any episode, because I really can’t stand them. I feel like their lack of existence makes DLTDGB a little inauthentic, but I justify it by saying that DLTDGB takes place in an alternate universe where this band never made it big.
Also, I have a new out of character post about some thoughts from behind the scenes while writing this episode.