Chapter 4: Cause
I spent almost two hours trying to write my report in such a way that didn't make it seem like "communication" was just too challenging a concept for us but when Ms. Moore gave them back to us the next week I wasn't really surprised by the glaring red C- on top. I left class quickly, without sparing a glance for my so called partner. I hoped his grade was just as bad....no I hoped his grade was worse. He caught up to me the next morning.
"Look Gin...about the assignment - I'm sorry. For leaving." he said.
I rolled my eyes and rubbed my neck in annoyance before turning toward him. "Right Erik. Okay."
"How about we get together after the museum trip...." he said. "To work on the next assignment together."
"Ah crap!" I exclaimed.
"Look I said I was sorry but we're stuck together on this Gin!" Erik said assuming my outburst was about him. "Unless you want another D."
"No! Not you! The field trip! I totally forgot about it!" I said yanking open my locker and rearranging the stuff in my backpack. I slammed the door shut and ran to the front of the school to meet the rest of the students. As I skidded to a stop next to Veronica and Timothy, I grinned when I realized Erik's grade had been worse than mine.
"Okay what's with the skull?" Veronica asked tilting her head to the side looking at the crystal skull on display. The plague said it was opal.
I shrugged. "I don't know. You think there are a lot of large opal skulls in France?" I asked looking around the 'French Exhibit'.
"It's creepy right?" Veronica asked still looking at the skull.
"Very creepy." I replied. "I saw a jade one in the China section."
"Ooh let's go look!" Veronica said taking my arm and pulling me through the milling students.
"Looks like married life suits them." I said with a laugh.
Veronica hadn't seen what I was looking at and followed my gaze to see Todd and Petronia lip locked in front of the jade skull. "Apparently. Alex won't even meet my eyes." she smirked.
"Well he does have a girlfriend." I replied with a smile.
"Hmph, like I would even be interested in him. I'm so over the football player thing." Veronica said looking away from me. I followed her gaze and saw Timothy talking to Lance about something.
"Clearly." I said quietly. I looked back at my museum program to hide my smile and became very interested in it as Veronica turned toward me.
"And you and married life?" she asked nudging me. "How did you do on your first assignment?"
"C-, I think Erik got a D." I said. "Yeah, I think my fake marriage will end in a fake divorce before the fake first anniversary."
"Too bad you can't get a fake F instead of a real one." Veronica added less than helpfully.
"Nice V - thanks for your support." I said although I wasn't really upset by her joke.
"I'm gonna say this again. Talk to him - for real. Not just this half-hearted small talk. It's not going to just go away Gin." Veronica said seriously as we started walking toward the Egyptian exhibit.
"Yeah, you're right." I said looking around to see if Egypt had some sort of skull as well.
"Good, I'm glad you agree." she said taking my shoulders. She spun me around right in front of Erik and then walked away, winking at me.
"Er...hi." I said glaring after Veronica.
"Hey." Erik said awkwardly. At least I wasn't the only one. "Um...like I was saying, we should get together...for the next assignment. Just not at the library...."
"Yeah. Um, why don't we go to my house? This afternoon?" I suggested. I knew he wouldn't want to go to his house.
"Okay, I'll....see you after school." Erik said with a nod. Then he turned and left quickly. I sighed and leaned against the display case, closing my eyes for a second to collect myself. When I opened them I spotted an alabaster skull staring at me intently. "Gah!! Creepy much!" I exclaimed to no one. The other students turned to look at me in surprise and I just smiled awkwardly before ducking back out of the exhibit areas.
Erik beat me to my house that afternoon and was waiting for me on the front steps when I got there. It may have been because I dragged my feet walking home. Todd was out with Petronia so I'd walked home alone for the first time all year. The prospect of facing Erik - alone - made me go slower than normal.
I let us both inside and after grabbing a couple drinks we sat awkwardly on one of the couches. As soon as we both sat down, I wondered why one of us didn't sit on a chair instead but by then it would have looked weird to get up and move.
"I would never be so controlling as to not let you buy a new dress." Erik said as a means to break the silence. "Or get mad that you did." he added.
I looked at him confused for several seconds before the source of his words hit me. The assignment...right. "Well according to the scenario you were." I said digging out the sheet Ms. Moore had give us yesterday.
"Well I wouldn't be. You can buy as many dresses as you want." Erik said with a weak smile.
"I'm not really a dress person." I said, chuckling a little. "Anyway maybe it's not that I bought the aforementioned dress but that I didn't tell you about it first?" I suggested.
Erik shrugged. "I don't see how it would make much difference but sure."
"Well I think we're supposed to figure out the root of the anger and talk it out....or something like that." I looked at the sheet of paper again. "Communication and all."
"Okay so you didn't tell me...I'm mad....you should have told me first." Erik said looking away from me.
"You're right, I should have told you first." I said. "And it was a really expensive dress...it was cowardly of me to not be honest right away."
"Yeah." Erik said still looking away from me.
"Okay then..." I said tucking a strand of hair behind my ear and frowning.
"There was someone else - over the summer. We broke up so it doesn't really matter but I thought I should tell you. There was someone else...." Erik said staring at the fire.
I felt my mouth pop open in surprise and was unable to say anything. I must have taken too long to reply because he finally looked from the fire to me. "Um....okay." I said finally. I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut. "Well we're broken up...so...I mean you didn't have to tell me or anything...but okay." I said.
"Right, I just....I mean - we broke up - her and I mean, before I came back....but I just, I needed to tell you." Erik said.
I nodded several times - too many times really. Of all the things Erik and I should talk about - this was not one I was expecting. "Well, okay. Great. Um, I'm glad you had a good summer." I lied with a smile. I looked back at the papers in front of me. "I think we have enough to get started here." I said holding up the paper. I stared at it as it wavered in my shaking hand.
"Yeah." Erik said looking at his own assignment. "Are you okay Gin?" he asked putting his hand on my shaking one to stop it.
I nodded and gave him a large fake smile. "Fine. I'm fine. But I have a lot of Geometry homework...do you think we can work on this later Erik?" I asked not letting my smile drop.
"Sure." Erik said. "I'll...cal...I'll see you tomorrow." he said gathering up his stuff. I saw him to the door and then walked outside hoping some fresh air would stop the tears stinging my eyes from spilling over. I saw a shadow in the pool house and was surprised to find Todd there playing Foosball.
I joined him at the table and we played in silence for several minutes. "I thought you were out with Petronia tonight." I said quietly.
"Eh, didn't work out. She still hung up on her ex." he said scoring another easy goal on me.
I looked at him and raised an eyebrow. I wondered if it was really Petronia hung up on the ex. "Still friends though?" I asked instead.
"Oh yeah, she's nice. Just not ready for anything." Todd said focusing on the game.
"Right, understandable." I said as the I continued to think about what Erik had said. Someone else...how serious were they? Why did he come back here instead of stay with her? Not that serious? I heard the ball slide into my goal once more and gave up.
I walked around the table and turned Todd to face me. I had every intention of talking to him about Erik, telling him what had happened, seek his advice and his comfort. But when I looked into his startled, sparkling eyes, I couldn't say anything. In fact, all rational thought processes stopped as I leaned forward and kissed him, clearly surprising him as he stiffened up as our lips connected.
Clearly we'd kissed before, a few times, but it had been awhile and things between us had changed. I'd stopped having a school girl crush on him over a year ago now. We were best friends...
Todd responded as I would expect most boys too after the shock wore off. He returned the kiss and wrapped his arms around me...
This wasn't the comfort I'd intended to get from him...