University life isn't what Caitlin expected. Her roommate Liz is hostile to her faith tormenting her with raunchy music and sleazy boyfriends. Worst of all, suddenly Caitlin doesn't understand herself anymore. Why has she regressed to being the shy, insecure girl she was in junior high? She doesn't even fit in with her new Christian fellowship group! Caitlin tries not to envy Josh and her friends at Christian colleges, but suddenly all she has are questions and few answers. In the story of Caitlin O'Conner's soul, this frustrating year is the most significant one yet, as the homesick freshman eventually remembers there is one companion she can always trust.
About the Author
Melody Carlson is the bestselling author of more than seventy books for teens, women, and children with total sales over 1 million. She has two grown sons and enjoys an active lifestyle of hiking, skiing, and biking. She lives in the beautiful Oregon Cascade Mountains with her husband and Labrador retriever.
Read an Excerpt
O N E
Tuesday, September 3 (Independence Day)
It’s what I’ve been wanting for ages–that irresistible reward that parents hold in front of their kids just like the old proverbial carrot–that tantalizing treat that only comes with “time and age and experience.” Okay, I’m talking about independence! Today’s my official “Independence Day,” and let me tell you, it feels totally great! All right, Caitlin, let’s settle down, girl.
Of course, I had hoped to sound much more mature when I started journaling in my first college diary (or maybe I should call it a journal now). After all, I might be an aspiring writer, journalist, or who knows what? But honestly, I did want my first college entry to sound–well, more grown-up.
On the other hand, a girl needs some place where she can just relax and be herself–let her hair down, so to speak. Especially when I’ve been acting so grown-up and mature for my parents lately, assuring them that I’m really ready for this, that I’ll be okay, and not to be so concerned–you know the kind of stuff we tell our parents to get them to chill a little. But the bottom line is, I really do believe God is watching over me, so what’s there to worry about?
And then, today–the big move in. I had to keep reassuring my dad that I was perfectly fine with this new transition. I thought I had him pretty convinced too, until it was time for him to leave. Then, with a stricken look on his face, the next thing I know he’s double-checking the dead bolt on my door and making sure the phone is working. Sheesh, he even tested the smoke detector and then actually grilled me about which was the quickest fire escape route, which fortunately I had noticed on about our fourth trip carrying my stuff up the stairs. (It’s at the end of the hall to the right.)
“Don’t worry so much, Dad,” I told him. “Hey, I even saw a fire extinguisher a couple doors down, and I’ll bet it works just fine.” I made a real effort not to laugh at what I know he feels is fairly serious business.
Finally we had all my boxes and bags and stuff stacked in my room, piled high and strewn all over the place like a tornado had blown in. (Dad believes that haste makes waste…) Thankfully my roommate isn’t here yet, so I might actually finish getting the last of my things put away before she arrives. I hadn’t realized I’d brought so much STUFF. In fact, I thought I was being somewhat of a minimalist. That is, until I saw all that crud heaped all over the room. As I suspected, Mom had thrown in a few extra items like an emergency food supply box, a first-aid kit, and even a mini medicine chest complete with Pepto-Bismol among other things! I guess she still doesn’t think I can take care of myself, or maybe she thinks that I’m going to get ulcers here on my own. But I have to admit, it was sweet. And now that most of my stuff is stowed away, it doesn’t look half bad around here.
Anyway, when it was time to go, my dad gave me this nice long hug, and then said all those typically parental things like: “We really believe in you, Catie. We know you’re going to do just great.” Nice stuff like that. And I’ll admit I cried, although I tried not to show it since I didn’t want Dad to feel any worse than necessary. I cried a little more after he drove away. But as I walked back toward the dorm, it hit me. I felt this wonderful rush, this new excitement, almost like adrenaline pumping right through me. I’m free! Independent! On my own! It felt so totally cool to realize this. It still does.
My mom had wanted me to join a sorority–her old one to be specific. And despite my concern that it might not be a very Christian atmosphere, I actually looked into it (mostly to please Mom). Then I was informed that they had a mile-long waiting list. Still, I could’ve gotten on the list if I’d really wanted and if I was willing to go through rush week. Which I was NOT. I really don’t care for the idea of herding a bunch of girls around and trying to pick out the best among them. And the truth is, I think sororities are kind of shallow and superficial. Consequently, I liked the idea of a dorm better–plus it seemed more independent.
I’m sure I could be wrong about these things, but that’s the general impression I got when I checked out my mom’s old stomping grounds. I know my good buddy Josh belonged to a fraternity when he was here last year, and he thought it was great. But then it was a Christian organization. He’d even encouraged me to look into a Christian sorority he knew about, but I figured if I wasn’t going to join my mom’s, I probably shouldn’t try to join another. I mean, her feelings were already slightly hurt when I told her I wasn’t interested. No need to rub it in. So here I am.
I already know my roommate’s name is Elizabeth Banks and that she’s a sophomore (since it says so on our door). But that’s about all I know. I could have requested a specific roommate if I’d known anyone coming to the university, which unfortunately I didn’t.
Andrea LeMarsh thought she was going to come here, and we’d talked about rooming together, but then she found out her dad had lost everything in the stock market last spring. And even though her tightwad step dad has plenty of dough, he wouldn’t spring for tuition plus room and board, so she decided to live at home and go to community college for a year. And, of course, Beanie and Jenny and Anna are all on their way to the Christian college even as I write. But here’s the kicker: After all Mrs. Lambert put Jenny through last year, she actually let her take a car. I couldn’t believe it–that woman has really been changing lately!
Speaking of cars, my parents and I decided it was best to sell mine. I must admit to feeling a little blue at first, but I know it was the smart thing to do. There’s no way I could work to make payments plus car insurance and go to school full time.
Besides, everything’s within walking distance here, and Dad even talked me into bringing my bike, just in case. But I still miss that little car–my first car. And it was a good car too. It took Jenny and Beanie and me (the three amigas) all the way to Mexico and back! Now I have to finish unpacking, just in case the mysterious Elizabeth should arrive tonight and trip over my shoes still piled on the floor.
Wednesday, September 4
So far no roommate. But that’s okay with me. It gives me a chance to sort of catch my breath and get my bearings. I’m completely unpacked now, feeling almost at home with my familiar bedding and pillows and whatnot all around. I hope Elizabeth doesn’t mind that I took the side of the room that’s away from the door. I didn’t really do it on purpose. I’ve just always had my bed on the right and automatically took that side. Hopefully she won’t care. And if she does, I’ll offer to switch. Although that means moving everything and taking down my bulletin board and posters, which took me forever to arrange just right. Before Dad and I left town, Beanie Jacobs stopped by to say good-bye and to give me this cool poster with the Lord’s Prayer on it. I hung it right where I can see it from my bed.
“God bless you, Caitlin,” Beanie said as she hugged me tightly. I could tell she was crying, which was making me cry too. “I can’t believe we’re going to be so far apart.”
“We’ll e-mail,” I promised, suddenly feeling the gulf that would soon separate us. “We won’t lose touch.”
“Right.” She stepped back and wiped her nose. “And Jenny says that if we miss you too badly, we’ll just hop in her car and drive on over.”
I forced a laugh. “That’s about three hundred miles, Beanie.”
“Jenny drives fast.”
“Well, tell her to take it easy.” Then I waved to Beanie as I climbed into Dad’s SUV, wishing I’d said something more meaningful, something profound and memorable. But I suppose that’s kind of silly. I mean, it’s not like I’m never going to see her again. In fact, I think I’ll e-mail her tonight and see how their trip went.
I got an e-mail from Josh yesterday. He wrote to me as if he were personally welcoming me to the university(like he was still here). He invited me to attend his fellowship group, told me the best place to get coffee, reminded me not to be late to registration (which is tomorrow, by the way), and then warned me that dorm food usually stinks. I e-mailed back assuring him that I’m fitting into things just fine, thank you very much. Not that I didn’t want his advice, but it did come across as a little overbearing. And this is something we specifically discussed several times this summer.
You see, as much as I like Josh, he sometimes has this annoying habit of coming across as–hmmm, how do I say this nicely–acting slightly superior or perhaps even chauvinistic. Okay, maybe those aren’t exactly the right words. I’m not even sure how to describe it. But sometimes I almost feel as if he’s telling me what to do or how to think. And I really don’t appreciate it.
Now it’s not that I don’t respect or appreciate his wisdom, but it’s more that I don’t care for how he dishes it out sometimes. Of course, I never put it to him in quite those words. But that’s kind of how I felt, and for the sake of our friendship, I did try to communicate it to him. And I must give him this: He does listen. And he says he wants to change. I just think it’s an old habit or something. His little sister Chloe said he’s always been like that. She calls it “just plain pigheaded,” but I think that’s a bit strong. Still, I’m glad I can be honest with him and he doesn’t get mad.
I guess that’s one of the things I like about our friendship–I feel free to tell him things that bother me, and he doesn’t take offense. And I think our friendship really grew this summer. Although to be honest, it made me a little uneasy to have him around so much. He was working in town, and as a result, it seemed as if we spent a fair amount of spare time together. Now, despite Jenny and Beanie’s teasing, it wasn’t a dating situation. Not really. I mean, both Josh and I had agreed from the get-go that we were not dating or romantically involved.
And to prove our point, we almost always had either my little brother Ben or Chloe or one or more of our other friends with us when we went anywhere. I know it sounds silly, but I also know it was for the best. And since this is a diary–and a secret place–I will say why I know this to be true.
You see, early in the summer, shortly after graduation, Josh stopped by our house one afternoon and just sort of hung out. He and Ben and I shot baskets for a while until it got too hot; then Ben went inside to get ready for a baseball game, and Josh and I decided to make an ice cream run. No big deal, right? We got double cones and then drove down by the lake just to talk and catch up and stuff. We walked out to the end of the dock, took off our shoes, dangled our feet in the water just like a couple of kids, and chatted away. But somehow, we started splashing each other with our feet. Just goofing around, it seemed.
But the next thing I knew, we’re really going at it, kicking up water and screaming and laughing, and I thought I was actually getting the best of him. So then he grabbed me, and before I knew what hit me, we’re both in the water, still laughing hysterically. And then we got quiet. I remember looking up at him and thinking how, even sopping wet, he looked totally handsome with his dripping blond hair hanging into his eyes–and maybe it was the lake, but his eyes seemed bluer than ever.
And suddenly–I can’t even remember exactly how it happened–he kissed me! And I was TOTALLY kissing him back! Right there in the water.
Oh, man! Even as I write this, my face is burning with embarrassment and well, who knows what else? But I knew it was wrong. And he knew it was wrong. But the truth is, we didn’t stop kissing right away. And when we did finally stop, there was just this dead silence. All we could hear was the lapping sound of the lake and crickets chirping. We climbed out of the water and both sat there stunned and humiliated, and I’m sure a little breathless. I know I didn’t know what to say, and I suppose I felt like it was all my fault somehow. I mean, hadn’t I been the one to start splashing in the first place?
“I’m sorry,” he told me in a quiet voice.
“I’m sorry too,” I echoed back, feeling slightly numb inside.
“Guess we better go now.”
I nodded. Then we both stood and tried to shake off the water, which was drying fast thanks to the heat. Then we walked back to his Jeep without even speaking.
We didn’t even talk as he drove me home. He apologized again at my house, and I just nodded and walked away, feeling like a total fool. What would Beanie and Jenny think if they knew? I wondered if I would ever tell them (as it turned out, I didn’t). And even now that makes me feel like a hypocrite. But I immediately went up to my room and got down on my knees and prayed.
It had been more than a year since I first made my commitment to God not to date. And the main reason I made that promise was because of the way things had gone between Josh and me–it’s like we could never keep our hands off each other when we were going out.
So anyway, I told God I was really sorry and that I was wrong. I asked Him to forgive me, and I know that He did. But I must admit it took me a while to really forgive myself. Some people would think this is nothing, but to me it was something. I felt I’d disappointed God–and myself. Still, I reminded myself that I’m human and God doesn’t expect me to be perfect–just to be changing daily and becoming more like Him. So I pretty much tried to forget about it. In fact, this is the first time I’ve given it much thought since then.
Josh e-mailed me that same night, saying once again how sorry he was and how it would never happen again. He also promised to make sure we didn’t set ourselves up for that kind of situation again.
But even now I am humbled to think how susceptible I was (and still am) to that sort of thing. To be perfectly honest, I think I had some sort of misplaced pride (like I was above falling into that kind of trap again), but God showed me differently–I’m simply human. And I think it was the same for Josh.
The good thing is, as summer progressed, we did avoid falling into that kind of temptation again. And I believe our friendship deepened and grew. As long as Josh wasn’t telling me what to do (in that superior way he sometimes has), we got along fine. Even Chloe mentioned (just last week) how cool it was to see a guy and a girl who could be such good friends without being all romantically involved. I do plan to set her straight on some parts of that theory though–without incriminating her brother, that is. I mean, it is possible for guys and girls to be “just friends,” but you have to keep a pretty close eye on things to succeed at it. Unless you’re a saint, which I certainly am not!