Chapter 14: The Tournament
I sat on the bus anxiously drumming my fingers. Right after the holidays, I'd been encouraged to join the school Speech and Drama club by a couple of my teachers. It had been fun and interesting in practices but now I was on a bus to my first actual tournament. I didn't know what to expect really so I was growing more nervous as the bus approached Franklin High School. I wondered if the elusive Sir James would be there but as far as I knew he wasn't in the Speech and Drama club so why would he be at his school on a Saturday? But then what did I really know about him?
When I walked into the high school, the first thing I noticed was all the red. James had said red was one of their school colors but was there this much blue at Carson? I thought hard and realized there probably was. The various school teams were shuffling into the cafeterias and claiming tables for their teams so I followed along with my team mates, ready to take in the experience. The Carson High group took up a couple of tables and soon all the tables were cluttered with bags, boxes, papers, notebooks, stuffed animals and assorted things but most of the people had clustered around the walls where pieces of paper were taped up all around.
I hung back and waited for the crowds to lessen before approaching the nearest wall. I realized why the crowd had gathered instantly, these were the lists of prelim rounds for all the various events with room numbers. I was entered in three events so I sought out my name and wrote down my room numbers in my small notebook. "Good luck Ginny!" a few people called as they left to go find their own rounds. I smiled and nodded in their direction and then figured now was as good a time as any to hunt down my first room. I was less than ten feet outside of the cafeteria, focusing on the tiny map the tournament hosts had provide when I bumped into someone and stumbled backwards, falling hard!
"Oh, ow!" I said loudly. I felt my cheeks flame red both from the fall and my loud reaction. I looked up finally to see who I had run into, alternating between hoping it was a team mate or a stranger. It was neither...
"My queen." James said with a playful smile on his face as he looked down at me.
"Um...uh...er...." my mouth made incoherent sounds as I tried to process the fact that he was here and that I was sitting less than gracefully on my butt. "Hi." I finally said as he offered me his hand to help me up.
"Good morning Queen Genevieve." he said as I righted myself.
"I think you can officially call my Ginny now." I said as I dusted off my pants.
"Nay, I fear I cannot - you stipulated two dances I believe." he said with a wink. "Are you alright?"
"Um, yeah, I think I am." I said looking at him and giving him a smile. "Do you run into all the guests at your school?" I teased, recovering myself.
"Only the special ones." he replied. "May I assume, since you are here at my school, that you are here to compete in the tournament?"
"Yep. Although to be fair, this is my first time." I said. "You?"
"Not my first." James said with a smile. "But I hope for my sake we are not against each other in any events, I would have to concede defeat immediately."
I laughed. I glanced at my watch and realized I still needed to find my room and time was growing short. "While I am beginning to enjoy our little chance encounters like this; I have a round to get to and have no idea where the room is yet." I said regretfully.
"Perhaps I could show you the way?" he offered. "I have no event at this time and I do know this school pretty well." he offered his arm to me. I accepted his arm with a smile and then told him where I needed to go. "Dramatic Prose." he said instantly knowing which event I was headed towards. "I look forward to it."
"Oh no! You can't stay." I said and then bit my lip regretting the words. "Uh, it's just that...you might...throw me off."
James looked at me for a moment and I held my breath wondering what he would say. "My presence effects you that much m'lady?" he asked with a flirty smile.
I looked down at my feet as the blush crept up again. "Um...yeah." I said to the ground.
"I'll be really quiet and promise not to smile at all." he offered.
"Fine you can stay." I said looking up at him. "But if I see so much as a twitch of your lips..." I trailed off recalling the interrupted dream I'd had.
"Yes? What about my lips?" he asked as we stopped in front of the room I need. He'd raised his eyebrows at my halted speech.
"Er...nevermind." I said and hurried into the class room. I heard him 'hmm' behind me as he followed me in but he didn't say anything.
James stayed true to his word and did nothing to disturb me during my prose. In fact, having a familiar face in the audience proved handy as it gave me someone to focus on occasionally without feeling weird. "Am I allowed to smile now?" he asked as we left the room together.
"Yes, I think you can." I said giggling. "Thanks for showing me to the classroom..."
"It was my pleasure m'lady." he said taking my hand in his and raising it to his lips. "I'm afraid I must depart your company now though, for I have my own round to attend. Will you be able to find your next room?" he asked.
I glanced at the notebook and the map and realized my next room was only around the corner. "I think I can manage." I said. "I hope chance brings us together again."
"I suspect it will." he said with a wink.
"Break a leg." I called after him as he walked away. He turned and waved to me as he left. I sighed contently and walked to my next round. I was the first one there so I settled in to work on my notes. This was a debate round, which was completely different from my already prepared dramatic prose. I smiled as a couple of my team mates from Carson came in carrying some of the research files for our team and made room for them near me.
The debate round went well, as did my final prelim round. I managed to find my way back to the cafeteria which now had a scattering of people playing games and listening to music. When people weren't in their own rounds or watching those of friends, they tended to congregate and pass the time here it seemed. Since most of the semi-final rounds didn't start for another hour, several board games had been pulled out. James materialized by my side and smiled at me. "I hope your prelim rounds went well m'lady." he said.
"I think they did." I said.
"Care to join me for a game to pass some time?" he asked motioning to where a Monopoly board was being set up at the Franklin High team table. I shrugged and followed him over.
We opted to play by altered "Quick Rules" due to potential time constraints. One of the first squares I landed on was "Chance."
"I hope it's good." James said winking at me.
"Chance seems to have been favoring me lately." I flirted. I saw James silently chuckling as I read the card (which was good in fact).
We didn't actually manage to finish the game before players started having to leave for semi-finals but it wasn't really important, we'd had a great time. The board was left out as it was - a tradition with Franklin apparently. Other players would show up and pick up the game where we'd left off from what James said. James and I had both advanced in events so we had to part company once again. I was at little sad to see him walk away but he turned and smiled at me before turning around the corner.
My semi-finals for debate and dramatic prose went well but I didn't advance for the prose. I was very surprised to see my name on the list for the debate finals though. I also saw James's name up there, among the others.
I wasn't sure if chance had turned against me or simply had a wicked sense of humor. James and I had been paired up to debate against each other and I remembered him jesting about conceding defeat. I wondered if it wasn't me who should be conceding. I prepared as well as I could and was ready for my brain to stop malfunctioning as I stared at his handsome face instead of making a logical argument but my brain surpassed my expectations. I felt pretty good about myself actually for even making it to the final round at my first tournament.
I had the audience in the palm of my hand...and then James spoke with his silky smooth ways and easily managed to persuade them to see his point of view. Despite a winning rebuttal from me, he could turn them back again when it was his turn. He had me thinking his way and I was supposed to be arguing the opposition. He was good - very good. Of course so were all the competitors in the final round. Watching each debate was like watching a tennis match with words.
"You were good." James said as we left. "Very convincing, if my coaches wouldn't have kicked me off the team, I would have conceded right then." he said grinning.
"No YOU were good. I was ready to just say 'He's right, I'm wrong' half way through the debate." I said with a laugh.
"Well you didn't show it." he said. "I have to go catch up with my coaches but...will you sit with me at the awards ceremony? We can span the gap between Franklin and Carson..." he suggested.
I smiled. "Sure, I'd like that."
At the awards ceremony, one of the Franklin coaches started off the evening. "Good evening and thank you all for being here! I know you all got here very early this morning and you're probably tired but....this is the best part!" she said with a smile. Everyone laughed and I heard several people murmuring their agreements. Trophies were always a perk.
The ceremony was long but there were a lot of laughs as people got their awards and there was more school spirit from each small school group than there was at most school wide pep rallies. Every trophy was greeted with whoops and hollers from the winning school and also from the rest of the audience.
When the presentation of Debate awards came up, I felt James hand slip into mine slowly - perhaps even nervously. I turned to smile and him and gave his hand a squeeze.
"Winning third place, from Carson High School..." the announcer was saying. I was the only one in the debate finals from Carson and my eyes went wide. "...Genevieve Bartlett!" I heard my school mates cheering but James was louder than them in my ears.
I walked, slightly less than gracefully due to surprise, to the stage and clutched the trophy in one hand and the hand of the presenter in the other. I stared at it and then the audience in shock as I moved to the side. They asked all the placers from each event to wait on stage for the whole event to be presented.
I was still stunned so I didn't even hear the name of the second place winner. I looked over at her as she stepped over to me. She vaguely recognized her from the final round and seeing her around. Hadn't she played Monopoly with us? Abigail something? She looked annoyed now that I examined her.
I shrugged her off and turned my attention back to the announcer. "First place, from our very own Franklin High School, James Dunmire!" she almost shouted the name - clearly excited to announce a school victory.
James, unlike me, showed neither surprise or shock. He was calm and graceful as he accepted his trophy. He smiled at the audience which was now roaring in appreciation. I wondered if it was all for James or had to do with the fact that this was the last event to be presented.
Finally, after several cameras from the audience flashed around us, the three of us were released. Abigail Something frowned the whole time and stomped back to her own school group angrily. She shrugged off all the congratulations. I watched her leave and James slid over to take her spot next to me. "She's usually like that." he said following my gaze.
"Sore loser?" I asked to which James just shrugged. "Congratulations." I said turned to him.
"And to you my Queen." he said bowing his head slightly.
"You really can call me Ginny ya know." I said with a laugh.
"I know." he winked at me. "But I'm holding out for that second dance."
"Ah!" I said nodding. "Maybe chance will continue to favor us."
"I can only hope m'lady." he said.
I grinned and pulled out the cell phone I could see in his jacket pocket. "Or we can give chance a helping hand." I said as I programmed my cell and house number into his phone under the listing of 'Queen Genevieve'. "Call me?"
"As you wish my queen." he said leaning closer. His face was inches from mine and he lingered a moment before giving me a light kiss on the cheek. "Until we meet again."