Nathan walked out of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and checked his watch. He’d have to hurry if he wanted to reach Marie’s apartment by noon. He went to his car and drove up the hill toward the University of Utah. Thankfully she had given him good directions, and promptly at noon he knocked on her front door. Soon the door opened.
“Hi, Nathan,” Marie said. “You’re right on time.”
He took a deep breath. “Yeah, I had to jog from the parking lot to make it. I’m not as in shape as I thought I was.”
“You look good to me,” Marie said with a smile.
Her comment briefly flustered Nathan, but he said, “Well, where’s a good place to eat around here?”
“I thought we’d go to a fun little sandwich place about two blocks away. Would that be all right?”
They left the apartment, and Marie took hold of his arm as they walked along and chatted. He was happy with that, but he was also surprised by her outfit. It was a pleasant March day, but her low-cut blouse revealed a little too much, and her skirt was well above her knees. In all of their teenage years together, he couldn’t remember her dressing that way.
“You never told me exactly why you came to Salt Lake today,” Marie said, pulling him closer.
“I actually had a job interview,” Nathan said.
“Oh? Which company is hiring?” Marie asked. “I’ve got a couple of friends looking for work.”
“It’s with the Church. It would mainly be transporting stuff and doing some security duty.”
“That sounds better than Toys-R-Us,” Marie said. “Would you work here in Salt Lake?”
“They didn’t give me many details, but I think so,” Nathan said. “There’s another meeting on Friday where I’ll learn a lot more about it.”
They arrived at the sandwich shop, and as they sat down at a table Nathan couldn’t help noticing that Marie’s skirt barely covered her upper thigh. She looked fit and trim, but the display of skin bothered him. Marie caught his eye and then shifted enough to pull her skirt down a little.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “I’m not used to hanging out with a returned missionary. It’s just such a nice day, and I wanted to wear something . . .”
“Don’t worry about it,” Nathan said, shifting his eyes to the menu. “Which sandwich would you recommend?”
When they got back to the apartment, Marie’s roommate Sheridan was there. She was a perky blonde girl dressed similarly to Marie.
“So you’re the missionary man that Marie keeps talking about,” Sheridan said with a smile. “She was right. You are cute.”
Nathan smiled nervously. “I’m not quite sure how to answer that.”
The girls laughed, and Sheridan said, “Just accept it.”
She then turned to Marie and said, “Hey, I picked up the mail, and I think something came that you’ve been waiting for! It’s on the table.”
Marie went into the kitchen and picked up a letter addressed to her. “It’s from Naples & Austin! Do you think this could really be it?”
Sheridan nodded eagerly. “Open it! Open it!”
Nathan was clearly confused, so as Marie carefully opened the envelope, Sheridan quickly explained, “Marie has applied for several internships and already received an offer here in Salt Lake, but she was waiting to hear back from this company in Chicago.”
Marie unfolded a sheet of paper and started reading it intently. Suddenly she tossed it in the air and shouted, “Yes! I got it!”
Sheridan and Marie clutched each other in excitement, then Marie collared Nathan, pulling him into a group hug accompanied by more joyful screaming. Marie finally backed away, wiping tears of joy from her eyes.
“Sorry about that, Nathan, but I just feel so happy and relieved that I was accepted,” Marie said. “This internship means everything to me. Naples & Austin is one of the best public relations firms in the country.”
Sheridan picked up the letter and read through it. “Wow, they’ll not only pay you, but they’ll also give you a place to live. That’s incredible.”
Sheridan handed the letter to Nathan, who read:
Dear Ms. Shaw,
It is our privilege to offer you a paid internship with Naples & Austin in our Chicago office, which is located in the renowned Bloomingdale’s Building along the city’s famous Magnificent Mile. We would also provide a studio apartment nearby for your use during the duration of your internship.
In our interview, you mentioned you would be able to come to Chicago as soon as possible and complete your spring semester classes online if needed. That is what we would prefer, due to the large number of projects we have coming up. We want you to begin working in early April if possible. Please contact me personally to accept the offer and to arrange your arrival date.
On a personal note, I greatly enjoyed our interview last month. You showed great poise, charisma, and spunk, which will take you a long way in this business. I know you realize the opportunities this internship will create for you, including possible full-time employment with our firm, so make the most of it!
Naples & Austin
“Wow, that’s exciting,” Nathan said as he handed the letter to Marie. “You hadn’t even mentioned this before.”
“I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think I had a chance, but Gretchen and I really clicked during the interview. It’s going to be awesome! Maybe you can come out to visit me this summer.”
“Yeah, that would be fun,” he said, feeling a little stunned by how this lunch date had evolved.
“Well, you’re welcome to hang out here, but first I need to call my parents, and then call Gretchen to accept the internship.”
“That’s okay,” Nathan said. “I work tonight, so maybe I should head back to Orem. I’ll talk to you soon.”
He gave Marie a quick hug, and then shook hands with Sheridan as he departed. As he walked back to his car, he pondered the strange twist of events that had occurred in the past two hours. First he got a job offer he thought would bring him closer to Marie, and now suddenly it looked like she was going to be living in Chicago for several months.
He sensed if he took the Church job, it was unlikely he would ever be able to visit her in Chicago. Then there was Marie herself. She was more attractive than ever and she always made his heart beat faster when they were together, but something had clearly changed in her spiritual life.
Nathan reached his car and sat quietly behind the wheel.
“Heavenly Father, what is going on?” Nathan asked. “Please give me some guidance.”
An image from the Spiral Dream he’d had in the Minnesota hospital came into his mind, particularly the part where he’d focused on Marie. He was astonished to realize that in the dream she had on the same clothing she’d been wearing that day. Nathan sensed there was a genuine conflict going on behind the smiles that Marie and her parents had been showing him.
“Talk to her parents,” the Spirit whispered.
Nathan nodded and started the engine, hoping to be able to catch Marie’s parents home that evening.
After arriving home, he called the Shaws’ number, but there wasn’t an answer. He loaded the dishwasher after dinner, much to Vanessa’s delight, then decided to just stop by their home.
Aaron answered the door and invited Nathan in. “How can I help you?” he asked. “Weren’t you with Marie this afternoon? She said you were there when she opened her letter.”
“Yes, I was,” Nathan said. “I just wanted to talk to you and Sister Shaw, if that’s all right.”
“That’s fine, but Carol isn’t here,” Aaron said. “Gary Pratt died, so she and the rest of the Relief Society presidency are meeting with the family to help arrange the funeral. But come have a seat in the living room. She should be back in a few minutes.”
Nathan took a seat on the couch, and Aaron settled into a recliner.
“So Gary Pratt died? That’s a surprise. He was a great example to me when he was my priest advisor.”
Aaron shook his head sadly. “He’ll surely be missed. It’s surprising how many faithful older people have been passing away the past couple of weeks in our area. The newspaper’s obituary section has been overflowing. It’s as if the Lord is saying, ‘Well done. Now come home and help us on this side of the veil.’”
“That makes sense,” Nathan said. “Maybe the Lord is sparing them from the troubles that await us as times get tougher.”
“I like that theory,” Aaron said. “Believe me, from what I see at work, we’re heading for some challenges.”
“What do you mean?” Nathan asked.
A brief wave of nervousness passed over Aaron’s face. “I shouldn’t really say anything, but since I started working at the NSA Data Center my eyes have really been opened on how quickly this country has changed for the worse.”
“In what ways? Are you talking about the chip?”
“Yes, but the chip is really just part of a national mindset that has evolved over the past few years. I’ve known the chip was coming for several months, and I honestly expected a public outcry against it. The public never would have accepted such an invasion of privacy in the 1980s or even at the time of 9/11, but I think we’ve gradually become accustomed to everyone knowing everyone else’s business.”
“I know what you mean,” Nathan said. “I set up a Facebook account a few days ago to stay in touch with my mission friends, and I started adding friends from high school. I was shocked by what some of them were posting. I haven’t seen them in three years, but I already know more about them than I ever wanted to.”
“Exactly, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Aaron said. “People don’t realize how the government is tracking everything, although they should. It seems like every other week there’s an article about another apology from Google for tracking this or that, and carrying an iPhone is like voluntarily letting someone track you. The social networking sites are essentially doing the same thing. Anyway, it would stun you to know how much information we have on people. My suggestion is to keep a low profile and simplify your life.”
“Is that what you’re doing?”
Aaron shook his head wistfully. “I’m trying, but I think it’s too late for me because of my job. I know too many secrets. I’m essentially caught in their web, so I’ll have to ride out what’s coming.”
“Did they make you get the chip?” Nathan asked.
“Not yet, although they’re really putting pressure on me. Thankfully it isn’t a requirement yet for federal employees, but I’m sure that will be coming soon. So stay away from government jobs. I’d leave mine if I dared.”
“Thanks for the advice, but I’ve actually been offered a job with the Church,” Nathan said.
“That’s actually part of the reason why I’m here to talk with you.”
“That’s great! How can I help?”
Nathan shifted uncomfortably. “Well, you’ve probably noticed that Marie and I get along pretty well. I really like her, so I’m torn about the Church job. At first it seemed like it was heaven-sent. I’d be working in Salt Lake, and she’d be going to college there. But this internship in Chicago has thrown me for a loop. It feels completely wrong to me. From what I’ve heard, the protests and riots that happened across the country last year are expected to be even worse this summer, and it could be dangerous there.”
Aaron nodded slowly. “I’m concerned about that as well, but let me ask you this. Is Marie the same girl you knew when you were in high school?”
“Well, she’s as pretty and as fun as ever, but either I got a lot more spiritual, or . . .”
“I know what you’re saying,” Aaron said. “Carol and I have noticed it as well. We talk with her, and I really don’t think she is breaking the Word of Wisdom or being immoral, but there’s a worldliness that has crept into her soul. It really bothered us when we found out she hadn’t been going to church.”
“That shocked me, too,” Nathan said. “She’s basically the reason I even went to church at first, and now she’s the inactive one!”
“At first we cracked down on her by expressing our disappointment and threatening to take away her car and so forth,” Aaron said. “But we really didn’t have much leverage and she called our bluff. After that, she wouldn’t answer our calls or emails for two months. Finally we went to her apartment and apologized.”
“How did she respond?” Nathan asked.
“She was happy to reconcile with us. She started coming home a couple weekends a month, and she’d go to church with us. That’s really kind of where we’re at right now. I really think she feels she’s doing fine, but we still worry about the influence her roommates have on her. Did you happen to meet them today?”
“I met Sheridan. She seems like a free spirit.”
“That’s an understatement. So to be honest, Carol and I are really hoping something works out between the two of you. I don’t think you realize how obsessed Marie was about your bombing incident in Minnesota. She spent hours online reading all about it."
“Wow! I didn’t know that.”
Aaron smiled. “So I hate to tip Marie’s hand, but she’s pretty interested in you, which we’re very happy about. You’re a wonderful young man with a great future.”
Nathan dipped his head, surprised at the kind words. “Thank you. That means a lot. But there are definitely some obstacles for us. I just don’t feel good about the internship.”
“Neither do we,” Aaron said. “To us it could become a real nightmare.”
“Did you tell her that?”
Aaron shook his head. “Because of our previous disputes, we acted happy about it when she told us about the offer. We hope it will fall through, but it doesn’t sound like it will.”
“Would it be all right if I talked to her about it?” Nathan asked.
“Yes. In fact, you’re about the only one who might possibly change her mind.”
Nathan shrugged. “All I can do is try. I’ll plan on visiting her again on Friday after I learn more about my Church job. Thanks for talking with me. It really helped.”
They stood up, and Aaron clasped Nathan’s shoulder as they walked to the front door. “I’ll tell Carol everything we talked about. She’ll be pleased. Hopefully things will work out for all of us.”
As Nathan drove home, the Spiral Dream once again crossed his mind. Marie’s battle with her parents on the staircase now made sense, but as the dream had concluded they had still been standing on the second level. There was no indication of how it would end up. Would Marie eventually climb the stairs and join the Saints, or would she happily slide down the railing?