“You’re my soul-mate,” Darrin whispered years ago.
“What do you mean by that?” Kari had asked.
“I believe that God makes people like a puzzle. No two pieces are alike and only two fit together perfectly. One man fits exactly with one woman.”
The romantic notion made Kari’s bow-shaped lips curve up slightly. Was he only 16?
“Really?” her eyebrows shot up beneath floppy bangs.
Darrin grinned and repeated, “You’re my soul-mate. We think the same thoughts, we understand each other completely and you can finish my sentences!” He tapped the end of her nose lightly with his calloused index finger.
“Maybe you’re just predictable,” she countered, swatting his hand away like a bothersome fly.
“You’ll see,” he smiled knowingly.
When she spotted the familiar strawberry gold hair, Kari’s stomach gave an odd twist. Her heart began to pound like she was running a marathon instead of moving toward the security gate in slow motion. She saw his pale blue eyes searching the faces lining the walkway.
Kari reached him a millisecond before Darrin saw her and his face lit up. The grin she adored twitched at the left corner of his full lips. Their gazes locked.
How her arms became wrapped around his neck she could never remember. His hand resting at the small of her back was large and comforting. Against her smooth cheek, his felt slightly stubbly. She turned to make a closer inspection only to find his nose inches from her own.
“Howdy,” he said in his slow drawl.
“Hello.” She couldn’t seem to form a coherent sentence when she could feel his breath on her face.
“Wecome to Oregon,” he said in a high-pitched voice.
Kari drew back, needing the space to collect her wayward thoughts.
“Look at you,” she said in a low drawl, “All grown up and everything.”
Darrin laughed and kept his arm around her while she led the way to baggage claim. Within fifteen minutes, they were in the parking garage, loading his Pullman into the hatchback.
That night, in front of the fireplace, the heart-to-heart sharing began. Darrin confessed his confusion about becoming a teacher. Seeing his friends engaged and heading off to foreign mission fields made him lonely for companionship. He longed for a clear sense of purpose from God in his own life.
Kari ached for him, feeling the intensity of his insecurities. Holding his hand and stroking it soothingly, she listened. She wondered if they’d share the same closeness after she shared her own college experiences.
“A state college is a little different,” she sounded lame to her own ears. “Don’t have to worry about my friends heading off on the Lord’s missions.” Her laugh sounded hollow.
Darrin squeezed her hand. The gentle pressure brought moisture to her eyes.
“There’s a lot of partying there. Nothing else really happens on the weekends, so groups of college kids hop from one party to the next.
“I managed to stay away from it the first year.” Her sudden burst of pride faded when she added, “But this year, I started hanging out with a few journalism majors and the football players. They’re all partiers.
“At first, I just went along,” she dropped her gaze to his chin, “carrying around a cup of beer, trying to fit in. I’d laugh and joke, but it felt wrong.”
After a pause, she whispered, “Soon, I was drinking wine coolers.”
Kari stopped talking. The pressure on her hand increased. She saw Darrin watching her with hooded eyes. Fear clenched her heart. She wondered what he was thinking.
Looking into the flames, Kari knew what she had to do. These secrets trapped her in a cage of lies. If her true friend couldn’t accept what she had done and who she had become, then life was hopeless.
Without looking at him again, Kari spilled it all. The parties. The drinking. The drugs. The guys. Emotional emptiness screamed from her rhetoric. By the time she finished, hot tears spilled down her cheeks.
Darrin had put his hand on her shoulder sometime during her spiel. Now, he wrapped his arm around her and pulled her into his chest.
“God still loves you, Kari,” he whispered, “Even more than I do.”
Peculiar, Kari’s heart no longer felt empty. Instead, she felt cleansed. Warm, reassuring words from her best friend made her feel accepted again.
“You were right, Darrin,” she said before they headed to sleep that night. “I think we are soul-mates.”
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