Libby Brooks paced the floor of the small one-bedroom apartment.
“Would you relax already?”
Libby halted and stared at her roommate and best friend. “I’m sorry. I’m just nervous about the meeting with Pastor Jim. He wants another update on the fundraiser.”
“So?” Jayne Licerio shrugged. “What’s there to be worried about?”
Libby plopped down on the couch and picked up a computer generated list she had tossed there moments earlier. “This.” She ripped the two sheets of paper apart from the stapled corner. “This is all I have to show for months of work. I should have a lot more donations for the silent auction by now. Pastor Jim’s not going to be happy.”
Jayne stood up and walked into the kitchen. “How about a cup of chamomile tea? It’ll calm you.”
Libby gazed at her watch and shook her head. “No thanks. I have to be at the church early.” She rubbed her temples. “Now, where did I put the envelope?”
“A big, brown one?”
“Yeah. Have you seen it?”
Jayne gestured to the stack of papers sitting neatly on the desk. “Is that it over there?”
“Yes. What would I do without you?”
“Hard to say, but I will say this: don’t be so hard on yourself. You may not have a boat-load of donations, but you are organized. I looked at that list of yours and I’m impressed by the tidy way you have everything listed.”
“I’m afraid Pastor Jim won’t be very impressed.” Libby carefully inserted the print-out into the envelope. She grinned as she grabbed her purse and car keys. “He raved about how much of a people-person I am—so giving and all. The thing is, I’m better at giving, but horrible at asking people to donate stuff. Now that I’m the only one on the committee, I have to be organized. It’s the only thing I’ve got going for me.”
“I think you’re doing a pretty good job since all your so-called committee members deserted you. You should’ve asked the pastor for more help, or at least learn to say ‘no’.”
Libby shrugged. “Yeah, maybe, but once summer hit and they all dropped out like flies, I didn’t have the heart to quit. Either way, I’m letting the church down.”
Jayne walked toward Libby and gave her a hug. “I wouldn’t say that.”
The drive to Berkeley Christian Fellowship took less than five minutes, but it seemed like five hours. She hoped the pastor wouldn’t be too disappointed. She swallowed against a lump forming in her throat. Maybe she worried for nothing. She always expected too much of herself and hated to let people down.
Libby stepped back as her friend released her. “Well, that’s how I feel.” She grabbed the doorknob and gave Jayne a wave before leaving the room.
She parked her royal blue VW Bug and walked across the parking lot toward the front entrance, uttering a prayer for peace. With her purse slung over her shoulder and the manila envelope tucked safely under her arm, she entered the church with her head held high. She would meet with the pastor and accept what ever he had to say, good or bad. If she failed miserably, she’d humble herself and quietly resign from the committee. Only she and her pastor would know. She prayed that the Lord would show mercy and make it a short meeting.
She headed straight for the pastor’s office and through the open door. Pastor Jim McPherson looked up from the desk and smiled.
Libby sucked in a breath and placed the brown envelope on his desk. She released the air from her lungs. “These are all the donations I have so far. I wish there were more, but—”
The pastor stood, cleared his throat, and pointed.
Libby gnawed her lower lip and turned her head. The sight of an impeccably dressed man sitting across from the pastor surprised her. When the gentleman rose from his chair, Libby recognized him as Kurt Stevens, a new member introduced just the week before. So much for a quick, private meeting.
Her eyes flitted toward Kurt then to Pastor Jim, whose face wore no expression as he indicated an empty chair. She felt her stomach tighten. His grim appearance made it clear he required more from her than a simple update. She should offer to step down now and save them all the trouble. Instead, she sat down hugging her purse close to her chest like a nervous schoolgirl.
After both men resumed their seats, the pastor leaned forward and rested his folded hands on the desk. “Libby, the reason I called you here is I’m concerned we don’t have enough donations for the silent auction.”
Libby felt a pang of shock race through her. He hadn’t even looked at her list yet.
“I feel you’re in over your head,” he continued. “In the last few months I’ve noticed a drop in donations. I know classes and the eye clinic take a lot of your time. You’re a dedicated servant and I don’t need to remind you how important this silent auction is for our fundraiser.”
Libby clenched her jaw to keep from crying. She stared at the manila envelope resting beneath the pastor’s elbows, the culmination of months of hard work. Everything she had to show for all the hours she spent outside of optometry classes were contained on the pages inside of it. He didn’t have to look at. He had already made up his mind. Her efforts meant nothing. “I’m sorry, Pastor Jim.” She blinked against the tears that moistened her eyes. “I’ll try harder.”
“Our overseas missionaries depend on the money we raise from events like these,” the pastor pointed out. “I don’t think you can catch up at this point.”
Libby couldn’t breathe at the realization that she not only let the pastor and the church down, but the hard working missionaries as well. And what did Kurt Stevens think of her? It embarrassed her that a total stranger had witnessed this awkward exchange. “You don’t need to remind me.” It took all she had to maintain her composure.
The pastor’s face softened. “I know I don’t. It’s just that the dinner and silent auction is less than two months away and I’m feeling the crunch as I’m sure everyone is. I know you’re doing your best working on this after school, but you need help.”
Libby knit her brows in confusion. “But everyone else is working on other committees.”
Pastor Jim looked at the man sitting across from him. “Libby, have you met Kurt Stevens?”
She looked at the man to her right. “No. I mean we haven’t been formally introduced.”
Kurt extended his hand. For a moment she forgot how upset she had become and noticed for the first time his handsome features. She remembered how his arrival a few weeks before had made quite an impact in the congregation, especially on the women. Even Jayne made a few comments.
She shook his hand and turned her attention back to the pastor. “I mean no disrespect, but Mr. Stevens is new to the church.”
“Yes, but you should know how important it is to involve new members as soon as possible.” He looked fondly at Kurt. “Besides, he has a degree in financial administration and is an executive for a large consulting company in the city. He’s more than qualified to work on this committee.”
The pastor might as well have said he was more qualified than she, a lowly third-year optometry student.
Pastor Jim stood. “I’m going to announce this before the congregation this morning.”
Libby rose, biting her lip to keep from saying something she’d regret. She followed the pastor out of the office then stopped when he paused to face her. “Thanks for meeting with me.” He patted her on the shoulder then turned to Kurt and shook his hand. “I’ll be in touch with you so we can discuss this more.” As he headed for the front door to greet parishioners, Libby felt like a third wheel.
“Are you okay?” Kurt’s voice matched the smoothness of his looks. “You don’t look very happy about this arrangement.”
As Libby turned to face him, she fought the urge to vent some steam. It would feel so good to release the tension mounting inside her, but the last thing she wanted was for someone she hardly knew to see her break down. “I’ll do whatever the pastor feels is best.”
Kurt smiled, revealing perfect white teeth. “Good. I’m glad you’re not upset. We’ll talk later, okay?”
Libby made her way into the sanctuary avoiding eye contact with everyone she passed. Still fuming, she settled into a middle pew then dropped her purse and printout on the floor by her feet.
Settling on the cushion beside her, Jayne nudged Libby’s arm with her elbow. “Pastor Jim sure has been chummy with that new guy.”
Libby looked up to see the pastor chatting casually with Kurt. Her stomach clenched. Now that she had time to calm down, she could finally admit that she needed help, but she didn’t relish the idea of working side-by-side with someone she hardly knew. Why did it have to be Kurt Stevens?
Jayne leaned back in the pew. “He’s so cute.”
With a slow nod, Libby had to admit that he was good-looking. His casually styled hair, gray suit, and white button-up shirt made him look like he’d just jumped off the cover of GQ Magazine.
Jayne leaned toward her. “I heard he’s from L.A.”
“I heard that, too. The pastor just informed me that Kurt will be helping me with the silent auction.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
Libby sighed. “I don’t know. I guess I didn’t expect my worst fears to be confirmed.”
“What did the pastor say to you?”
Libby drew a breath and let it out. “In so many words, he let me know just how disappointed he really is.”
“Ouch! I could see why you’re so upset.”
“I shouldn’t be. It’s just that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve been able to devote myself to something worthwhile other than school. Over the summer it was easy when all I had to do was work in the eye clinic, but as soon as the fall semester started, it was harder finding the time.”
“You’ve got a point there.” Jayne gently touched her friend’s hand. “Accept the help Libby. Everyone stands to benefit from this, so don’t let your pride get in the way.”
“I know that, now.” She looked at Jayne and smiled. “I’m glad I have my street-wise friend to ground me.”
“Yeah, being sheltered all your life has its drawbacks.”
Libby covered her mouth to suppress a giggle as the pastor took his place behind the podium.
***After church, Libby made her way to the refreshment table. She stopped at the coffee pot and lifted a paper cup from the stack next to it.
“Hello again.” A male voice startled her. She looked up to see Kurt standing next to her as he grabbed a cup for himself.
“Do you mind if I join you?”
Libby looked around for Jayne. “Uh, no, not at all.”
“Do you work around here?”
She looked up after she filled her cup. “I’m a student at UC Berkeley.” Forcing a smile, she stirred Splenda into her coffee.
Kurt poured himself a cup and followed her to a table.
“Berkeley, huh?” He pulled out a chair for her. “What’s your major?”
Surprised by his gesture, she sat down then watched him take a seat beside her. Was he trying to win her over?
Two teenage girls walked by the table each flashing Kurt a mischievous smile as they sauntered away giggling.
“You seem to be garnering a great deal of attention around here.” Libby couldn’t resist making the observation.
“I guess, but it’s not them I’m sitting with.” He gazed at her and grinned. Caught off guard by his remark, she didn’t know what to say.
“I’d like to know more about you.” Kurt flashed a grin then took a drink of coffee.
“Me?” Libby wrinkled her brow. She wondered why someone as sophisticated as Kurt Stevens would be interested in her. Where’s Jayne when I need her?
“Yes, you.” He sat back in his seat. “You haven’t answered my question.” Libby acknowledged her omission with a smile. “I’m majoring in Optometry. I’m in my third year.”
“What made you choose Cal?”
“Berkeley’s School of Optometry is one of the best around, and it’s not far from home.”
“Where’s home?” Kurt leaned forward, resting his folded arms on the table. His hazel eyes sparkled with interest.
“Healdsburg. It’s about an hour north of here.”
“Then you must live on campus, right?”
Although flattered by his attention, Libby was reluctant to say too much. For some reason she felt wary. Since high school she had distanced herself from getting involved with men. Her focus had always been on academics. Unwarranted attention from the opposite sex proved a distraction she didn’t need—or want.
Libby chided herself. As a Christian, she knew not to judge a person’s motives. Wisdom had its merit, but sometimes she went too far. She willed herself to relax. “I live near the campus.”
“That’s good. I don’t see how anyone can study in the dorms with all the partying going on.”
“Actually, Jayne and I used to live in student housing up until a year ago, and we never had a problem with it.”
Kurt chuckled. “Well, where I went to college, it was a huge problem.” Libby sipped her coffee then dabbed her lips with a napkin. “What college was that?”
“UCLA, but tell me more about you.”
Libby didn’t know whether to be flattered or annoyed. They hadn’t been there fifteen minutes and already she’d divulged more about herself than she cared to. Why would a total stranger be so interested? Why not? Could it be that she’d been hiding behind textbooks for so long that she forgot how to converse with a guy? It wouldn’t hurt to answer a few questions. “What else do you want to know?”
“She’s my best friend. We met during our freshman year and now share an apartment.” She leaned back in the chair. “Anything else?”
Before he could answer, Jayne stepped up to the table. “Hi Kurt, I’m Jayne. I hear you’re going to help with the silent auction.”
A wave of relief flooded over Libby when her friend pulled out the chair next to her and sat down.
Kurt flashed Libby a smile. “Yes, I’m looking forward to working with your friend.”
Noticing the gleam in Jayne’s eyes, Libby halted her friend with a warning stare. “Are you ready to go, Jayne?”
“What’s the hurry?”
Libby stood up. “I have to call my parents.”
Jayne scooted her chair back. “It was nice meeting you, Kurt.”
“Likewise.” He gazed at Libby. “I’ll call you later. Maybe we can meet or something?”
“Sure.” She grabbed her purse and slung it over her shoulder. “I’ll see you later.”
Libby started to walk away.
She turned back around to see Kurt holding up the manila envelope. “You almost forgot this.”
Libby’s heart sank as she eyed the brown covering. “Thank you.” She took the envelope from him then stood there for a moment swallowing her pride. “We’ll talk more. I would like that.”
Kurt smiled wide, his hazel eyes sparkling. “Me, too.”
Jayne beamed at them both then waved at Kurt as she followed Libby out of the room.