Romance Fiction posted December 25, 2014

This work has reached the exceptional level
a romantic short story set at Lake Tahoe

Where There's Hope . . .

by RodG

Paradise reeked! I should have been used to the stench by now, having toiled two consecutive twelve-hour shifts to eradicate it. Nothing worked. Not even prayers which were plentiful. When my supervisor "Rev" Hudson, a minister-in-training, wasn't cussing, he prayed.

That summer I slogged with a six-man crew digging fifty-foot ditches called "leech lines" on a rocky ridge overlooking Lake Tahoe. Our venue, Zephyr Point Conference Grounds, was a beautiful 50-acre compound owned by the Presbyterian Church. This magnificent site interspersed with pine trees encompassed five or six rustic lodges, a small beach and pier, and a beautiful log-framed church. Yes, indoor plumbing existed, but all the sewage emptied into septic fields that often overflowed if there was full attendance. That week 300 Presbyterians, mostly families, had come for seminars and recreation. Not a room was vacant.

ZPCG's staff consisted of 24 college students, one real minister, Rev, and me. I'd received my diploma a week prior to coming.

"Well, Pete, got any ideas? Even God's nose must be offended by now."

"No, Rev. If He hasn't spoken to you by now . . ."

We both laughed.

Rev Hudson, a wiry young man maybe half a dozen years older than the rest of us, was a third-year theology student at San Anselmo Seminary. He spent every summer between semesters working at the Grounds.

Already I'd seen two facets of Rev's character. On the job he was jovial and energetic. "I'm digging ditches for God," he'd laugh, yet no one worked harder or longer. But in the crew lodge each evening I'd see a somber young man praying or silently viewing the natural world around us.

He had rapidly thinning blonde hair, dancing blue eyes, and a constant smile. He was easy to like, and I assumed he'd be a wonderful minister. But what did I know, being neither a Presbyterian nor a church goer.

A dozen private cabins fringed the Grounds. My father owned two. For years he'd served as legal advisor to the Board of Directors. When they hired me, I'm sure they disregarded my lack of religious affiliation because of their respect for Dad. Then he asked me to manage the cabins.

"Get out of here, Pete," Rev said. "The smell will dissipate with time, and we've done all we can today. Nature will do the rest if we let her."

Needing no further encouragement to abandon my efforts, I handed him my shovel and hauled myself out of the shoulder-high trench.

"Man, you're putrid!" he laughed as I brushed by him.

"You're no rose, Rev."

"Hey . . . you met her yet?" he asked.

I paused a bit upwind. "Who?"

"Hope! The new girl in the kitchen."

"I thought the crew was complete. When did she come aboard?"

"Last night, but I met her this morning at breakfast. If you weren't so anti-social, you'd have met her, too." He winked a grime-coated eyelid. "She's a cutie!"

I grinned back at him, but his words "anti-social" rankled. I'd wanted to live in the crew dorm and spend my off-hours with everyone else, but seldom could because I was too busy renting out or cleaning up the two cabins.

The major benefit of spending my "Me-time" in the cabins was the fabulous view each had of Lake Tahoe. Neither required much upkeep, and one had a balcony. I rented one per week and slept in the other. Normally, I had lunch and dinner with the crew, but ate breakfast at "home" so I could sleep in a bit.

"A cutie, huh?" I said as I trudged along the fire road to my cabins.

The crew's ratio was 2-1 girls to guys. Each coed was nice enough, but I was attracted to none of them.

I started to sprint. Maybe . . . just maybe . . . this "cutie" would be sitting at my table tonight.
* * *

She was!

I'd showered until the hot water expired, using two kinds of soap and three different shampoos. Then I sprayed myself with Dad's cologne.

Dinner was served to the staff upstairs from a large conference room in one of the lodges. Six long tables with benches filled the small square room. There wasn't assigned seating, but if I arrived late I sat wherever there was room.

That night I got lucky. A vacancy existed across from "cutie" and next to Rev. I knew he'd reserved it for me when he winked, his eyelid now spotless.

"Hope," Rev almost shouted, "this derelict is Peter Baron Johnson, but some of us call him PBJ. I think that's all he eats for breakfast, but I don't know as he never eats with us." Then he grinned at me. "Pete, meet our newest crew member, Hope Sherwin."

Yes, CUTE! She was a short-haired brunette with a pixie's face, lots of freckles, and a wide mouth. Her mesmerizing milk-chocolate eyes glimmered with humor.

"Hi," she said. She smiled big-time and extended a small hand across the food-laden table.

"Hello," I replied and winked at Rev.
* * *

Rev was adept at quickly involving others in table conversation. With a few questions and easy repartee, he prodded Hope into telling everyone about herself. Soon she knew much about us, too.

After dinner we were descending the wooden stairs to the sandy courtyard when Rev grabbed my arm.

"Pete, you coming to Vespers tonight? I've been asked to lead because Reverend Vernon has a meeting with the other ministers. I could use your help."

"What help?" I thought. I knew Vespers to be mostly casual talk, a few prayers, and maybe a song or two.

Then I caught that sidelong wink again.

"Sure . . . sure. Whatever you . . . uh . . . need, ask."

He tapped Hope, a step or two ahead of us, on the shoulder. She turned and gave him a wide smile.

"I'm betting you sing, Hope."

"I do!" she chirped. "All the time."

"Wonderful! I haven't much of a voice, but I play the guitar pretty well. Will you help me a bit, too?"

"Of course!"

"Great!" he exclaimed and elbowed me in the ribs. "You sing and Pete here will lead us in at least one prayer, okay?"

Me lead a prayer? I gulped.

As Rev's eyes bore into mine, I reluctantly nodded.

"Good!" He glanced at his watch and shook his head. "We've got . . . uh . . . thirty minutes, and I have to grab my guitar at the crew lodge. Our good reverend didn't give me much advance warning, but God willing we'll have fun tonight . . . won't we?" He stopped abruptly to toss a timid smile at Hope and me.

I groaned, but Hope yelped, "You bet!" She scooted down the six or seven remaining steps. "Pete and I will get the fire started. We'll be ready when you are."

"Thanks, guys! I--I really appreciate this,"Rev said and strode off toward the crew lodge.

Hope waited for me.

"You're frowning," she said as I approached. "Why?"

"I was the only member of my fraternity who couldn't sing and . . . and I don't pray."

Her elfin face stared at me. Each freckle danced in the bright light of the floodlight glaring from the eaves above.

"Never?" she asked.

I shook my head.

She stood feet astride, her small hands on her jean-clad hips. "Can I ask why? After all, this is--"

"A church campgrounds, I know. My family owns property on the Grounds, but we Johnsons aren't church goers. Dad even claims he's agnostic, yet he's the most righteous person I ever met. He's truly honest, lives by the Golden Rule, and donates thousands to the Synod and charities."

"That's your father," she snapped. "What about you? Don't you have cause to pray . . . sometimes?"

"No, I don't," I thought, "but why should I tell you that?"

Right then I wanted to recant my promise to Rev and trot on home where I could enjoy the view of Tahoe . . . alone.

Hope might have heard my thoughts.

"I've only been here a day and a half, yet I love this place," she said quietly. "I believe in Providence, and after lunch today I walked down to the beach to thank Him for bringing me here. At dinner you said you've spent several summers at your cabins. Don't you . . . ever thank Him, Peter?"

I shook my head. "You're a preacher's kid, Hope, who attends a religious college. I assume you don't drink and party like I do. Only once have I ever attended church service. A Catholic mass which I hated. And I don't believe in Providence or predestination. Man makes his own choices and must live with the consequences. Heaven? Hell? I'll find out if they exist when I get there."

She frowned. "Last night at Vespers Reverend Vernon asked for volunteers to lead us in prayer. Rev will probably call on you, Peter, but I--I can take your place if you want me to. I do it all the time in an ecumenical group at Millikin."

"No, but thanks. If I don't lead tonight, I'll never hear the end of it tomorrow. Rev's my crew boss."

A sly smile crept back across her lips. "He said you guys dig ditches. Smelly ones."

"Yup." She had me grinning, too.

"I've never dug anything like a ditch, just a small grave once for a gerbil. After Vespers will you show me the one you're working on?"

I must have gawked. "Okay, yeah," I mumbled, "if we can round up a flashlight."

"Are you anything like your father, Peter?" Hope asked, those eyes glimmering again.

"I--I don't know. What do you mean?"

"You said he's the most righteous man you know. I'm wondering if his son is any different. We'll be alone in the dark. Are you someone I can trust, Peter?"

To be honest, I wasn't sure. ZPCG was the most romantic spot on earth, and over the years I'd taken plenty of liberties with young ladies I'd met on the Grounds.

I stared overhead at the floodlight, wishing I could hide from its illumination. I wasn't gallant, believe me, but she'd been so honest, I couldn't lie.

"Our backgrounds . . . we . . . we are so different, Hope. In college I was the quintessential frat boy. You'd be wise to not take a chance until we know each other better."

She came toward me smiling. "That's sweet . . . and honest. You are your father's son!" She took my hand. "I'm an old-fashioned girl I guess, but I like holding hands at Vespers, especially when we pray."

We walked to the beach holding hands and got the bonfire going. Once everyone else arrived and we were seated around the fire, her hand found mine again. When Rev called upon me to lead the Lord's Prayer, her faith surged through our clasped hands, and I did not falter.

Rev was great and we did have fun singing and laughing. When Vespers finished, it was too late to show her the ditch. But we walked back to the crew lodge still holding hands.

"Goodnight," she said, stepping into my embrace.

A single kiss so . . . so memorable!

Later, much later, I stood on the balcony of my cabin, gazing at the splash of moonlight across the face of the dark lake.

The words came slowly from deep within and spilled into the quiet night.

"Thank you, Lord, for all this . . . but especially for giving us Hope."

Opposites Attract writing prompt entry
Writing Prompt
The topic for this contest is: Opposites Attract. Romeo and Juliet, Ross and Rachel, these are couples that were opposites yet found love with one another. In this contest write a story about a couple that is opposite but yet drawn to one another.


The postcard is courtesy of Google images.

The characters and the plot are fiction, but the setting of this story is very real. Perhaps some of you have been to Zephyr Point Conference Grounds about ten miles west of State-line. I did work there two summers once upon a time and treasure the memories.

Millikin University is a Presbyterian college in Decatur, Illinois.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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