“Cerise!” Michelle waved Cerise over to where she was talking to two pretty, trendy women. She judged them to be in their early twenties, and immediately scanned their left hands while approaching. Yep, both engaged, she noted with a pinprick of jealousy.
She smiled and waved as she approached them. “Hi,” she said cheerily.
“This is Cerise,” Michelle said to the women gathered around. “The single one,” she clarified, and both women gave a small nod of recognition. Cerise used up most of her willpower stopping herself from rolling her eyes. “Cerise, this is Jennifer and Stephanie.”
“Great to meet you,” Cerise lied, shaking their hands. She had a feeling she knew what was coming.
“So, you’re still single?” Jennifer asked, eyebrow raised.
“It’s the truth,” Cerise forced her voice into a singsong cadence, darting her eyes around the foyer for a way out of the conversation.
“Oh, you have to come to Northtown, so many single guys there. Have you been to Streams?”
Cerise felt confused. “Streams?”
“Yeah, Sunday nights at 7:00. It’s awesome, the band is so great and Pastor Nick is such an amazing speaker.” Jennifer had a habit of lengthening her a’s that already annoyed Cerise. Would you stop it, she told herself. Don’t judge her because of how she talks.
“I went to Bible college with him,” Michelle chimed in. “He’s a friend of Ben’s.”
Cerise had been to Northtown before, but only to their Sunday morning service. People had seemed a little cold and unfriendly, maybe because there were just so many of them. She much preferred the smaller congregation at Cornerstone.
“I’ve never been,” she supplied. Perhaps this was another chance to try it out; as annoying as it was to be pegged as the single girl, she was intrigued by the idea of ‘so many single guys’.
Stephanie nudged her friend. “She would be perfect for Justin.”
Jennifer gasped in delight, her eyes round. “Yes! Oh, of course!”
“Well,” Cerise laughed lightly, “you did only just meet me…”
“Yeah, I guess, but you would look so cute together.”
Despite herself, Cerise felt a small thrill of excitement. Maybe this was the moment, maybe God had wanted to lead her to this man her entire life. Don’t get ahead of yourself, Cerise, she warned herself. You never know. All in his timing.
Cerise gripped the steering wheel of her car and took in a deep breath to calm her nerves, wishing again that Anna had been able to accompany her. She didn’t so much mind meeting new people; in fact, she loved being where the action was, jumping into conversations and hearing others’ stories. But she was nervous about this Justin, or really any single guy who would be there. Most of the men her age within the church were already married, or partway there. She’d been waiting her entire life, it seemed, to meet the man that God had planned for her, but he always seemed to be just around the next corner. She’d had angry moments, bitter disappointments and heartbreaks when crushes turned their interest to other girls, but all that had faded into a general sense of disgust whenever she looked in a mirror. Did she give off some kind of aura that repelled men?
She’d never had a boyfriend. Almost twenty-six, and she’d never been kissed, never even held someone’s hand. When she was younger, she’d felt frustrated and impatient, which had gradually been overlaid with a deep, aching loneliness and a familiar sense of worthlessness every time she woke up alone in her bed, every time she drove home alone after a party.
What is wrong with me?
She pushed the negative thought aside. No. Tonight she was going to go inside with no expectations of any men. She was here to worship God, after all. That’s why she’d come, that was what had drawn her here. Besides, don’t these things happen when you least expect them?
She checked her makeup one last time in her rear view mirror before making her way to the entrance.
She found Stephanie and Jennifer after searching through a sea of long, wavy locks and swirled spikes. They waved her over excitedly. Jennifer pointed Stephanie in another direction, giggling, and then Stephanie glanced at Cerise and left.
“Love your hair!” Jennifer said.
“Thanks,” Cerise smiled, touching her own wavy style. As usual, it had taken a while to get the curl in, and she could feel it sagging already. They had been making small talk for a couple minutes when Michelle joined them. Cerise felt relieved to see a familiar face.
“Hi Michelle!” Jennifer grinned as she approached.
“Oh wow, I feel so out of place here,” Michelle said quietly. Her hair was pulled back, her makeup simple and her clothing plain. Cerise thought she looked relaxed and fresh, but a glance around made her feel self-conscious, too. Maybe straight hair would have stood out a little more. She wished again that Anna could have attended; she was always so comfortable with herself, no matter the circumstances.
“I haven’t been to a young adult event like this in forever,” Michelle continued. “There are hardly any married people here.”
Cerise hoped that were true, but she had definitely noticed her fair share of sparkling left hands since entering. I wish guys wore engagement rings. Less false hope.
“What are you talking about?” Jen said, waving her hand dismissively. “There are lots. Oh, Stephanie!”
Stephanie was returning through the crowd, a great big smile on her face, followed by a tall, muscular man who looked to be in his early thirties. Cerise immediately tried to find a spot on his face that was close to his eyes, so he wouldn’t be able to tell that she was too nervous to look into them. Then she looked away, pretending she hadn’t noticed him.
He totally saw. Is that Justin? He’s so much older than I thought!
“Justin, this is Cerise,” Stephanie said brightly. “Cerise, Justin.”
Now she had to look at him, and she did, just above his smiling blue eyes, focusing on his eyebrows. He gave her a toothy grin, and put out his hand.
“Hi, good to meet you,” he said, his voice deep and musical. She gripped his hand with a confidence that belied the butterflies in her stomach, and her whole arm tingled.
“You, too,” she said, smiling.
“Have you been here before?” he asked.
“No—well, yes, but not for a long time. I haven’t been to this type of service before.”
“Oh, Streams is so awesome. The Spirit really moves here, and Pastor Nick is such a great speaker.”
Cerise’s stomach jumped. Barely a minute into their conversation, and he’d already mentioned the movement of the Spirit. Attractive, single, and a man of God? Where had he been hiding?
“How long have you been here?” she asked.
“You know, only about six months. The lead team has really adopted me as their own.”
Looking at him, Cerise could hardly question why. He blended in easily with the crowd around him, smoothly capturing their look of effortless casual. His hair was expertly tousled, and she couldn’t quite tell if he’d had it highlighted. His jeans were ripped in all the right places, and he wore leather bracelets on his tanned wrists. A little bit of the euphoria from their meeting drained away as she realized he was certainly a class above her, and he would never be interested in someone with thighs her size.
No expectations, Cerise! She scolded herself. I’m here for Jesus.
“I have to go,” Justin said, nodding at someone over her head. “But I’ll see you after the service, right? A bunch of us usually go for coffee.”
“Yeah, of course. See you later.”
He melted into the crowd, and she turned back to the trio of women, trying to brand every detail of their meeting into her brain. I might tell that story to our kids someday. The thought was fleeting, and she immediately, forcefully dismissed it. Shut up, Cerise. Don’t be a stupid idiot.
She floated above the women’s conversation, wondering why Justin had not offered to sit with them, and chiding herself for thinking about him at all.
Chords began to play over the gathered groups, and the crowd thinned as some three hundred young adults drained into Northtown’s large side chapel. Cerise claimed a seat next to her new friends, and was still chatting when the worship leader called their attention.
“Welcome, everyone,” came a deep, musical voice, and Cerise snapped her head toward the stage to see Justin’s tousled hair. Her heart jumped, and she calmed it.
“He’s the worship leader?” she whispered to Stephanie.
“Yeah,” she grinned knowingly. “He’s really talented.”
Cerise’s heart sank. She’d been foolish to think she had a shade of a chance, anyway.
She spent the rest of the evening trying to focus on Jesus, but couldn’t stop trying to minimize her thighs.