Tuesday, January 5, 2010

School Days

Chapter 22: China Here We Come!

As soon as we were on the plane I felt crowded. I have no problem with flying but I knew it was going to be a long flight and I wasn't ready. I already knew that Ms. Moore had arranged our seats as close together as she could but the best she could do was two three person rows a few rows a part and then a single for herself where she could keep an eye on us without being in the middle of us - really it's not like we could get away from her on a plane in flight anyway. The walk down the aisle felt long to me as I waited to see where Erik would sit, I had no idea if we were on the same row and I was making plans for a seat swap if needed. Erik turned into the row I wasn't assigned to and I tried to hide my relief. I wasn't ready. I took the window seat of my row, followed by Veronica and Timothy. After tucking my carry on under the seat I looked at Veronica seriously. "Don't swap with Erik." I said quietly.

"What?" Veronica asked. I glared at her.

"Do. Not. Swap. Seats." I said slowly and she just shrugged.

"Like I'd want to sit next to the love birds." she said looking a few aisles up where Todd and Mei-Ling were already nestled in with each other.

I didn't make a plea to Timothy - as long as Veronica refused to give up her seat I was hoping I could delay things. Of course if Timothy did swap with Erik, Veronica would lose interest in being stuck in the middle of us. I leaned back and stared out the little window waiting for take off.

The plane was starting to taxi out when Veronica broke the silence. "Okay so why are you avoiding Erik - who if you recall IS your boyfriend and if I heard correctly, you said you believed?"

I sighed again and kept looking out the window.

She took my silence as the only response she was going to get. "Okay then...but you're gonna have to talk to him about....well whatever....at some point. This isn't one of those 'if I avoid it, it will go away' things."

"I know." I said to the window. Whether Erik sensed my mood or was avoiding me as well, he didn't make an attempt to swap seat until almost half way through the trip. I'd slept through most of it so I didn't feel any more ready to talk to him now than I was when we took off. Timothy agreed to switch and Erik took his place to start working on Veronica. She looked at me and knew without words that my request still stood so she refused, claiming not to like the aisle. Erik tried again a few times but ultimately settled into Timothy's seat and our awkward silence. When Veronica excused herself to go to the bathroom, Erik took her seat in the few precious moments he had.

"Gin." he said when I didn't look at him. "Ginny, why are you avoiding me?" he asked putting his hand over mine.

"This...." I stopped and looked at him. His eyes were full of confusion which I expect but also pain - which I wasn't ready for. "I'm tired Erik, can we talk after we land?" I asked willing Veronica to return at that moment. She didn't right then but she did return before Erik could push further. I went back to looking out the small window and drifting in and out of sleep.

When we finally landed and arrived at the hotel we were all tired, dirty and irritable from the flight but Ms. Moore ushered us into a quick group shot. No one made any effort to pose or smile for the tourist she'd gotten to take the picture.

Knowing our luck it will be in the year book.

We'd arrived the day before the tournament which was a good thing since most of us crashed in our rooms to sleep off the bad sleep we'd attempted to get on the flight. The first rounds of the tournament were for the novices - in our little group that was Timothy and I. I'd like to say that Timothy and I were a real credit to our school and our instructor and took top ranks in our division but it's not true. We didn't do badly - we each won a couple matches but we both washed out on the first day.

I can't really say I was disappointed though. I had fun with the club but the tournament had lost it's luster before I even got on the plane. Now I was free to see China with the time we had left.

The second day of the tournament was for the intermediate contenders - including Veronica on the lower end and Todd. Veronica did very well for her belt class and even worked her way up the ranks to compete against a newer blue belt. She ended up taking first amongst the green belts. Todd, though good, was depressed and real life effected his sparring. He held his own but ended up on the bench with Timothy and I before the final matches. He just didn't have any fire in him.

Even though the third day was for the higher level contenders, we all got up early to cheer Erik and Mei-Ling on for their matches. The sun had barely touched the sky when we met and I tried to stifle a yawn.

Erik's first match wasn't for another hour so he pulled me aside as soon as he could. "Ginny can we talk please?" he asked.

I shut my eyes tightly to focus. I knew I couldn't put this off much longer but I didn't want to mess up his competition - I didn't want to mess up anything. "You've got to stay focused Erik, I don't think now is really the time." I said as serenely as possible.

"Gin - you're avoiding me, you won't talk to me....you say you believe me about Mei-Ling and yet...." he trailed off. "What's wrong?"

"Just not now!" I snapped and then immediately regretted it as he recoiled back from me.

To his credit, he put his frustrations toward me into his sparring and breezed through his sparring matches. On the last one he stumbled and lost the match coming in second for his belt class. Mei-Ling, who had years of practice on all of us, was able to focus entirely on the sparring. Nothing stopped her as she climbed the tournament ranks. Although she didn't come in first for her belt, she placed highly. Her previous instructor was at the match as well and challenged her to a spar to test her.

The tournament also included a board breaking portion which Veronica, Timothy and I had all decided not to enter. Timothy decided to go watch though while Veronica and I took the day to get away. Veronica made a list of places she wanted to shop and I made a list of places I wanted to see. We agreed to try to do both while we had the chance. Shopping was first.

I let Veronica drag me from shop to shop and the act of shopping kept her attention off of me and on herself. I knew she wanted to see if I had talked to Erik, when I would talk to Erik, what would I tell Erik, and so on and so forth - but she wanted new clothes more.

I dragged her to Palace and the Terracotta Army after the shopping. Once again, her urge to complain about my choice of activity took priority of her need to pry into my life.

We were walking back to the hotel when I saw a little pile of rubbish in the grass. I looked over to investigate and saw a fleck of gold so I dragged Veronica over.

"Seriously Ginny! The history lesson was enough - why are you digging in the dirt?" Veronica asked looking less than amused.

I ignored her and kept poking around the bit of rubbish.

"Okay fine, well while you're digging you can at least entertain me." Veronica said changing her tactics. "I know you haven't talked to him yet - I caught your little scene at the tournament - so why don't you tell me why you're avoiding him?"

I considered ignoring her but figured she'd just keep bugging me. "I think I need to break up with him." I said bluntly.

Her eyes about bulged out of her head. "You what?!" she said kneeling beside me. "Why? You don't think anything happened...so why?"

I sighed. "Part of him - a big part of him - wants to go home to Virginia to be with his mom. But he doesn't want to hurt me I don't think. I'm afraid if I don't, he'll stay here and then be miserable." I sat down on the grass and tucked my knees to my chest. "You've seen how he's been.....am I wrong?"

Veronica sat down next to me. "Heck if I know Gin - he has been moody but I figured it was because he wanted to stay and his mom was making him go...."

"At first that's what it was I think but then when she came and dropped that bombshell at his birthday...." I trailed off.

"So it for his own good then." Veronica said trying to follow my reasoning. "No other reason."

"Well the jealousy bugs me but I can live with that - I wasn't the most rational person either. But Todd is my best friend - don't give me that look." I said with a half-hearted smile. "I don't know V! None of it feels right anymore."

"Maybe you guys just need a break. He's going back to Virginia for the summer anyway, why don't you just let it go and see where things are after?" she said sounding almost reasonable to me.

"I can't let him leave without talking to him. And what would I say - oh I've been avoiding you but it's all good now, see you in the fall." I said.

"True I guess..." Veronica said putting her arm around me and leaning into me.

The next day was a free day for us to see the sights but Ms. Moore wanted at least one more group shot. She took us to the steps of the palace and we all put a little more enthusiasm into it for her sake and then she released us with strict curfew instructions - except for Mei-Ling. Her parents had come for the tournament and were planning to leave with her tonight. Todd and Mei-Ling were the first to disappear, clutching each others hands tightly.

Mei-Ling took Todd to a quiet hilltop from which they could see the great waterfalls and overlook the city. Neither of them spoke on the way up and just held hands as they stood at the peak of the hill. "Thank you Todd." Mei-Ling finally said turning to look at him.

"Thank you for making this such a special year." she said fighting back the tears.

Todd was fighting his own emotions as he pulled her into a hug. "Thank you." he said softly. "Being with you has been...."

"Wonderful." Mei-Ling finished. "I cannot believe the year is over already." she said looking out over the city.

"I know." Todd said still holding onto her, afraid to let go of her - afraid it might be the last time.

"I did not expect to find you when I went to America - I did not even expect to enjoy it there." Mei-Ling turned and gave him another tight embrace.

"I want to tell you how much I'll miss you, I want to ask you not to go, I want to say a lot of things and just don't know what the words are." Todd said. "We'll write..."

"And call." Mei-Ling added with a sad smile.

"And email." Todd said matching her tiny smile.

"Right." they said at the same time and chuckled a little. They didn't come down from the hill top until dusk. Mei-Ling parents, for their part, did look sad about splitting the pair up but there wasn't really much to be done. It was a one year exchange program. After they drove off, Todd walked off as well. I had an idea where he was going but wanted to give him some time first. The others stood behind me watching him leave and waiting for me to make a move. After awhile I followed him and found him at the lake not far from the hotel. I sat beside him but didn't say anything.

"This sucks Ginny." he said finally.

"I know." I said. "I'm sorry it had to be like this."

Todd didn't reply, only stared into the water. He didn't need me to talk so I didn't talk. Eventually the others came up behind us and just stood or sat quietly lending their support.

I spent the last few days of our trip hanging out with Todd mostly. He wasn't in the mood to see China and I wanted to be there for him if he needed someone.

I decided not to put up a fight on the flight home, Erik had endured almost two weeks of almost complete silence from me since the incident in the gym and I was too emotional exhausted to keep it up. Since we were going home one less than we came with, Erik and I ended up with a row without the others. We did have a German tourist on the aisle but he ignored us. I was staring out the window when I felt Erik take my hand. When he squeezed it, I instinctively squeezed his hand back but didn't look over at him. "Ginny please talk to me." he said softly.

I looked over at him sadly. We were only a quarter of the way into a long flight and I didn't want to spend the rest of the flight with him giving me those pained eyes. If I did it now there would be a different pain there, but it would be the same either way. I looked back at the window to find the right words but none of them came to me. "I think..." I said still looking at the window. "I think we need to take a break..." There was silence beside me and I was afraid to look. Would there be hurt, anger, confusion? All of the above?

"If you're breaking up with me, I'd rather you talk to me and not the window" he said with surprising calmness in his voice. I slowly turned to look at his face and could see the swirl of emotion playing across his face. "Why?" he asked.

"You need to go home to Virginia, at least for the summer. I know you want to..." I said. "When....if....you come back, maybe things will have settled down..."

"If? You think I want to move back there? Or are you hoping I will?" he asked sounding angry.

"Of course not!" I replied quickly and honestly. "I don't want you to move back but....I could understand if you did."

Erik was silent, piercing me with a gaze I wanted to flinch away from. "You say a break....are you breaking up with me here Ginny?" he asked after several tense minutes of silence.

"Yes." The word was out of my mouth before I even knew I was going to say it. I was pretty sure my own eyes were as wide as his at my response but it was the truth. At least I think it was. Unable to find the words to take it back or maybe unwilling to, I made the uncomfortable effort to get past both Erik and our German rowmate to go to the bathroom. I stayed in there longer than necessary and then begged with Timothy to switch seats with me on the way back. He was a good friend, and completely unaware of what had happened, so he agreed.

I saw Erik watching me as I took Timothy's seat but I tried not to notice. I ignored the curious looks from Todd and Veronica and tried to tune out the rest of the flight.

When we landed back at home, Veronica had to poke me awake. Most of the flight had already disembarked and she needed by me. I scrambled back to my original seat to grab my abandoned carry on bag and felt relief that Erik had already gone. I was one of the last ones off and was surprised to see Erik waiting for me. I shouldn't have been I suppose but I was.

"That was cowardly, switching seats with Timothy like that." he said calmly.

I couldn't help but agree there. "Maybe it was." I said.

"I don't...." he stopped, trying to control some emotion. "Why?"

I just shook my head. "Because we've been drifting apart for awhile now. Every time we tried to come back together it seemed like we ended up further apart. It hurts too much to watch you push me away...."

"I never meant to push you away." Erik said sounding upset.

"Go home Erik, be with your mom and your new brother when he's born." I said turning to walk away.

He stepped back as if my words had stung him. In a soft whisper, "But this was home..." he said as I walked away from him.

End Chapter; End Season 1

1 comment:

  1. Caught up with Freshman year, onto the next. I am so glad I started reading this story, your characters are so well-defined.