“Alexandra, come here, darlin’!”
The rich bass of William King’s voice bellowed through the spacious Tudor-style house Lexy King had always known as home. Lexy smiled, somewhat amused at her father’s insistent use of her full first name. No one called her Alexandra. Not her mother, brothers, friends….no one. No one, except William Foster King III---otherwise known to her as Daddy. “Coming, Daddy!”
Lexy adored her father, and vice versa. Her mother was her mentor, friend, and confidant, but Daddy, well her father was who she looked to for approval. Granted, they had their disagreements. In fact, they both possessed the same hard core determination, but nothing had ever come between them that couldn’t be solved with a trip to Cold Stone Creamery. It was pitiful, but they both knew she was a sucker for anything chocolate.
Lexy finished adjusting her iPod and checked the time as she bounded down the stairs. She had just enough time to go for a run before taking a shower and getting ready for an outing to a nearby Starbucks with some friends. As much as she relished her talks with her father, she hoped this one was quick. Her mother’s smile greeted her at the bottom of the stairs.
“Slow down, sweetie. There is no need to rush.”
Her mother never, ever wanted Lexy to rush. Elizabeth King considered hurriedness a cause of carelessness, and carelessness caused accidents, which were completely unacceptable, especially for her baby girl.
Lexy gave her a quick peck on the cheek, “I know Mama. I’ve got time, but do you know what Daddy wants?”
Her mother smiled, like she knew a secret. She cocked an eyebrow and took on the expression of a precocious six-year old that spoke ‘I’ll never tell’ in sing song.
Lexy rolled her eyes at her parents’ alliance. William and Elizabeth King had been married 30 years and the most famous magician would be hard pressed to squeak a single card between them. They were the definition of a united front, one she had grown to appreciate since she became an adult. But sometimes she wished one of them would tell on the other—just once. She gave her mother a playful smile.
Lexy’s dark, wavy pony tail swished around, looking for her father’s face, “So…where is he?”
Elizabeth bobbed her head towards the study and moved into the kitchen humming a favorite tune.
Lexy turned around, hurried through the den, and into her father’s office, “Daddy?”
William King, known to most as William, only her mother called him Will, spun around in his leather chair and grinned from ear to ear. Suddenly, as if on cue, the pet butterflies that resided in her gut, began to dance. She knew that look. That look represented her father’s idea of encouraging Lexy to come out of her comfort zone and into some unknown activity that would supposedly inspire growth. These opportunities, as her father called them, took on many different faces during her childhood: ballet, piano, violin, every type of sport, student body president…the list went on. It wasn’t that Lexy didn’t appreciate or even enjoy the activities (with the exceptions of violin and golf); it was just that the ‘push’ that began with the not so subtle ‘look’ was always initially painful.
“Let’s talk, Alexandra.”
Lexy plopped in the mahogany leather chair that sat across from her father’s massive cherry wood desk.
Inwardly, she coached herself. Calm down, Lexy. You are an adult. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.
She bent down to tighten her shoe laces, while looking up at her father, “What’s up?”
He came around the desk and handed her a piece of paper, “Read it and tell me what you think.”
Lexy sat up, sighed, and took the letter from her father, now very curious about its contents. The greeting was addressed to her father, but apparently in regards to her. She scanned the piece of paper and then looked up at her father, confused, “What is this, Daddy?”
He sat down behind his desk and stared up over the teepee he had constructed with his fingertips, “Did you read it?”
She nodded slowly and scanned the letter again,“Yes. But it doesn’t make sense. I haven’t heard of Camp Courage and I have no idea who Dr. Joline Darcy is.”
Her father began to explain with a little too much enthusiasm. “Dr. Darcy is actually a good friend of mine. Really, her brother and I were friends in college. You remember me talking about Jimmy? Joline is a bit older…” He shook his head, seemingly shaking off irrelevant thoughts. “Anyway, Joline is the assistant superintendent of schools in a large county up in Georgia.”
Lexy continued to stare, “And?”
He chuckled, apparently amused at Lexy’s confusion. She, on the other hand, was not amused at all. William stopped laughing after noting her impatient expression. “I talked to her a few months ago. She inherited the responsibility of taking over a summer day camp, Camp Courage. Joline wasn’t happy about it; one more thing piled up on dozens of other responsibilities. She was really at a loss as to what to do...”
Lexy, though sometimes accused of being a little feisty, had always been a pretty patient person, especially with her beloved father. Because of that love for her father, Lexy probably only interrupted him a total of two times in her entire life. Once when he questioned her innocent first date about the validity of his driver’s license, another time when he dared approach the subject of puberty when she was 13 years old. But an interruption now seemed warranted, because nothing coming out of his mouth was making sense.
He held up his hand to silence her. It worked. She sat back in the chair, noted the ticking time on her watch, and waited. Her jog may be vetoed today.
“Camp Courage is a camp for kids with special needs.”
Uh-Oh. Connection. Her degree was in special education. Suddenly, the muddled picture was clearing up. But he wouldn’t have volunteered…without even checking….she looked at his face resembling the guilty cat that ate the canary.
She jumped up from the chair and began pacing. There was a time during her teenage years when she had memorized the number of steps it took to cross from one side of the enormous room to another. It didn’t help that her father actually had the gall to appear shocked that she wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement. Then, to top it all off, his voice took on the patronizing tone of a parent talking to a child on the brink of a toddler meltdown.
“Calm down, sweetheart. It’s just an opportunity to think about…”
She rolled her eyes. Opportunity to think about. Yeah, right. Just like violin, student body president, dance!Really! Well, not this time. She was twenty-two years old and had plans of her own. She was supposed to start graduate school this summer and had actually volunteered to teach summer school. What about her longtime boyfriend, Brody? Apparently, her father hadn’t considered any of those factors, or… had he?
He was explaining, “Alexandra, Joline-” He stammered and cleared his throat. “-I mean Dr. Darcy needs a qualified individual to direct the day camp for six weeks. It’s up in the Augusta area, which is a beautiful city, by the way. You could live with Joline and get lots of invaluable administrative experience. The camp is for children who have a difficult time attending any other camps because of the extent of their disabilities.” He paused a second to let his words sink in. “It would look outstanding on a resume.”
Oh, he was pulling out all the stops on this one. She stopped moving and stood in front of him with her arms crossed. He watched her like she was on the verge of some type of conniption. Well this time, he just might be right. Lexy swallowed her aggravation, and tried to calm her hyperactive heartbeat. After all, no one could force her to go. It was her decision. She took a deep, cleansing breath and counted to ten before speaking.
“Daddy, it does sound like a good opportunity. I agree. But it is six hours away. My life is here, in Jacksonville, with you, mom, my friends and Brody.”
He actually rolled his eyes. Aha! Now this was starting to make sense.
As if he could read her thoughts, he was quick to respond, “Now, wait a minute young lady. Sit down.”
“I know what you are thinking. And you know as well as I do, that is not how I operate.”
He ran his fingers through his salt and pepper hair, and moved in front of her, leaning back on his desk. Lexy always thought her father was handsome with his tall stature and sophisticated presence. But Judge King could also be imposing, and she hated when she was on the receiving end of his sentencing expression.
“Alexandra, you have always been a very good girl.You are the light of both my and your mother’s lives. But you are 22 years old and have never really been out on your own. Jacksonville University is a wonderful school, but it’s five minutes from the home you grew up in. I just think it’s time you spread your wings a little bit. I’m not against you working at one of the local schools if that is what you choose to do…” He paused as if he was examining the truth of his next statement, “...and I have nothing against Brody.”
Lexy leveled him with her hazel eyes.
William put his hands up in surrender, “Ok, other than the fact I think you are too young to be so serious about someone.” He stopped her upcoming rebuttal, “Not that you are serious about him, but I’m not stupid. He has other intentions, my dear. Honorable, I am sure. But what Brody is thinking is forever. I’m not sure you are ready for that.”
Lexy got up from her chair. She had heard enough. “Daddy, you and I both know I’m pretty level headed. Don’t you think you can trust me with my own heart...and career?”
She handed the letter back to him and straightened her shoulders, holding her head high, like only he had taught her to do. “Thank you for the opportunity. I will think about it, Daddy. But no promises.”
William’s eyes filled with pride and then softened towards his grown-up girl. He nodded his head, recognizing the end of the discussion. “Understood.”
Lexy decided, regardless of the time, to take her jog. Quickly, she text Brody, letting him know she would be late. She needed time to think and pray. Finding comfort in the sights and sounds of the familiar caused her body to relax. The sight of the St. Johns River peeking through the giant moss-laden oak trees was a source of peace she always found at home.
Leave it to her father to turn her well laid plans upside down. It wasn’t that the camp didn’t sound like a great experience. But it also scared her, beyond anything she would ever admit to anyone. Her father was right. She hadn’t been away from home for any length of time.
Truthfully, she had never desired to leave.
Lexy thought about what her parents had written in the pink baby book she often got down from her treasure box. The penned words were beyond sweet, stating their love for their little girl, but also saying that not one day passed when they didn’t pray she would fall in love with Jesus. Their prayers worked. At the early age of seven, she asked Jesus into her heart and she had fallen in love with Him. That love was nurtured in her protective environment. She had two older brothers who were strong Christians, and then there were her parents who set an example of a faith walked out in the daily routine of life.
Lexy was one who had been given a childhood where morning devotionals and prayer time were as natural as sitting down to a meal. She attended a private Christian school her whole life. Her small class was a family, albeit one that fought sometimes, but more like brothers and sisters than anything else. She was never anxious to date, never felt like she was being pulled toward any particular boy. When the time came to choose a college, she never even considered going away from home. Sure, her junior and senior years she moved out and got a small apartment near the private university, but the security of home was only minutes away.
Upon graduation, she moved back home and intended to work as a substitute in several different settings before applying for a teaching position the next year. Working on her master’s degree seemed like a natural progression, although she hadn’t really received peace about that decision.
And then, of course there was Brody. She and Brody met her sophomore year in college. Brody was a football player and pre-law major. She often teased him because he couldn’t look more like a preppy golden boy if he tried, which he didn’t. He was just wired that way. Brody Sanders had a year round tan, a shock of hair the color of Florida sunshine, and although he wasn’t a skyscraper at 5’10’’, he had the build of an athlete. He dressed like he walked off the pages of a catalogue. Since their meeting, they were a steady date on the weekends or to parties. They each had attended the other’s family events, but nothing beyond a chaste kiss or a brotherly hug had ever passed between them. Intimate talks about the future occurred often, but her father was right about one thing, Brody’s idea of happily ever after was much closer than hers was.
Lexy stopped. She was tying herself up in knots, and hadn’t even prayed about it. The lyrics of Casting Crowns', “Lifesong”, ran through her mind. She simultaneously talked to the One who knew her best. ‘Lord, please guide me through this decision. If I am supposed to be somewhere else, move me, God. As much as home means to me, it is not home unless I am in Your will. Show me what to do, Jesus. In Your Name, Amen.’
Lexy felt the familiar shower of peace rush over her, and even anticipated with some excitement the doors God would open and close in answer to her prayer.
Lexy finished blow drying her hair as her mother peeked through the bathroom door. Lexy quickly switched the dryer off. “Hi, Mom. What’s up?” Lexy noticed that her mother looked tired, which was rare.
“Mind if I talk to you while you get ready?”
“Nope. I just have to put on my makeup. Is everything ok?”
Elizabeth King sat down on one of the vanity chairs, and looked down at her hands. When she looked up, Lexy could definitely see something was on her mind. “Mom?”
“I wanted to talk to you a little about the letter from Joline Darcy.”
Lexy nodded her head a bit reluctantly as she quickly grabbed her cosmetics bag from under the counter and began applying her makeup. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to talk to her mom; she just wanted to process everything first. But she and her mom were very close and if her mother had something to say, Lexy was willing to listen.
“We love you, baby. You know that.”
Lexy could see her mother’s crystal blue eyes watering.
“And we are so proud of you. I don’t want your father’s conversations with Joline to come across like we don’t think you can make your own decisions. It’s just that it does seem like a good opportunity, and we really want you to spread your wings a little, see what’s out there.”
Lexy stopped putting on her mascara, and looked at her mother. Her tone wasn’t disrespectful, but it was tight with frustration, “Mom, you and Daddy act like I’ve never been outside the city limits of Jacksonville. Have you forgotten about our vacations out west, mission trips to Haiti...remember Europe, Mom? Three weeks touring the English countryside gave me some culture. I’ve hardly been sheltered.”
Elizabeth nodded her head thoughtfully. “You’re right, Lexy. You have had lots of blessed opportunities to travel. But that’s not what we mean by spreading your wings. You haven’t had a chance to live on your own, without your Dad and me or your two brothers to look after your every step.”
Lexy started to interrupt but her mother put her hand up in protest.
“Not that you’ve asked us to, but we’ve been there, regardless. I just think living away from us for a couple of months will give you a fresh perspective.”
Lexy zipped up the Vera Bradley bag and placed it underneath the counter. She hoisted herself on the countertop and faced her mom with a worried expression. “Do you think I need a new perspective?”
Elizabeth appeared deep in thought, obviously carefully choosing her words before answering her sensitive daughter. “I know from experience the most growing is done when we are out of our comfort zone, so to speak.” She stood up and enveloped Lexy in a hug. “I want the best for you, as always, and so does Daddy. But sometimes when God is all you have, He is all you need.”
Lexy drove to the nearby coffee shop in a daze. Her mother’s words were resonating in her heart. She did have a lot of safety nets: parents, grandparents, even great grandparents. Her brother, Brad, and his wife, Sara, lived within 15 minutes of her parents’ house. And although Billy, her other brother, was a missionary in Africa, she knew he would move the heavens to make sure she was ok.
The butterflies in her stomach were definitely having a party since the conversation with her mom. The reason? In her heart, she knew her parents were right. She needed an opportunity to grow. The bottom line was that this opportunity was amazing, especially for someone fresh out of college with no experience. At that moment, she knew her answer. Sighing, Lexy pulled into the parking lot and readied herself to face Brody.
“Augusta! Where did that idea come from?”
Brody’s face was tense as he tried to process the information. They had temporarily walked away from their group of friends to wander around the popular St. John’s Town Center. He had been holding her hand, but let it go and walked away with his back to her. He stared into the penny fountains, silent. When he turned, his face showed hurt and frustration. “It’s because your father hates me, right?”
Lexy moved towards him, shaking her head. “No, Brody.” She explained her parents’ reasoning.
“And how long will you be gone?”
“About 8 weeks.”
He huffed and reached for both hands. The sounds and smells of the outdoor mall surrounded them, but he looked at her like she was the only human being in the world. His tone was just short of begging. “Are you going? You could say no. You don’t have to do everything they tell you to do.”
He looked at her hopefully. Lexy bit her bottom lip. There were times in her life when God didn’t answer her prayers for months, even years down the road, but this one He had been quick to answer. Her heart had shifted and deep down, she knew she should go. The truth was she wanted to go. But the last thing she would ever do is hurt Brody, the boy who had respected her for more than three years, and never asked for anything she wasn’t willing to give. She caressed his hand in hers. “They didn’t tell me to do it. I could say no. You are right.”
He searched her eyes, “But?”
“But… I think I’m supposed to go. As much as I don’t want to leave home or you, honestly, it is a great opportunity, and they make some valid points about being on my own for a while.”
Silence hung between them for several seconds.
Finally, Brody spoke. His voice was full of emotion because he knew her well enough to know she had made her decision. “I’ll miss you, Lexy. Promise me something, ok?”
“Promise me you won’t fall in love while you are away.”
Her nervous laughter was evident as she shook her head. “Brody…that doesn’t even make sense. I’m not looking to...”
He cupped her cheek with his hand, “No, Lex. I mean it. We’ve been together for a while. I’ve told you my feelings for you, but you’ve never returned those feelings, in words anyway.”
Lexy could feel her face warming. It was true. She couldn’t tell Brody she loved him because she didn’t know that to be true. She cared for him, very much. But love? “I’m sorry…”
His hands on her shoulders and the blueness of his pleading eyes stopped her words. “I’m not asking you to lie, Lexy. I’m just asking you to keep me close to your heart while you are gone. Don’t let anyone else in. I’ve prayed for you, for us, for a long time. It’s in God’s hands and I know it. But I really don’t want to lose you.”
The obvious contradiction in his words bothered her, but before she could respond, several of their friends caught up with them, and they ended up with the group until she got in her jeep to drive away. Brody looked at her for a long time before she finally pulled away and she knew the reason for his stare. The promise he asked for never happened. Relief flooded her with every mile she put between them. It wasn’t that she planned to fall in love, but she certainly didn’t want to make a promise she couldn’t keep.
Amanda Williams is a forty-year old wife and mother of two who can still swing her pony tail and display just a tad of sass. She is also a Jesus loving girl who realizes she is nothing without the One who saved her. Amanda has two degrees specializing in serving students with special needs and is currently working in the field of Leadership Development. She is a Christian author, speaker, blogger, and publisher who loves serving beside her husband at her local place of worship, First Baptist Church of Ocala.