Saturday, April 24, 2010

School Days: Sophomore Year

Chapter 18: Rumors and Recovery

Todd had the "good" fortune of having his wreck early in spring break. The hospital stay ate up most his break and then he stayed home for a week recovering. Despite the fact that he was grounded, I showed up at his house everyday to visit and Mrs. Anderson let me stay. I'm not sure if she realized I would make a nuisance of myself or if she thought cutting Todd off completely would be bad for him. Either way I was happy she let me see him.

In all the time I'd spent with him since he'd come home, I'd avoided the issue of drinking. I wanted to talk about it but I didn't want to push him. But more and more we fell into awkward silences, like there were things to be said and we were both avoiding the topics. "Truth time." I said during one such silence.

"Oh man." Todd said but I was sure I detected a bit of relief, like he'd been hoping I would break the ice first. "Okay, shoot."

"When?" I asked what I felt was the easiest of all questions. "When did you start?"

"When? That's your question?" Todd asked surprised.

"Yes, that's my question." I said with a small smile.

"Um, okay - last fall, after a football game. I was over at Dirk's house for a post game party and he offered me a beer." Todd said. "I accepted - told myself it was a one time thing."

"But it wasn't." I said.

"It started that way." Todd said turning his face from mine.

"Okay." I said and decided to drop the subject for now. There really was more to say, more to ask, but I would let Todd continue now that ice was broken. I just hoped he would open up eventually. My phone rang then and I saw it was from James. I felt a pang of guilt, I'd been neglecting James to be with Todd lately and hadn't really talked to him for more than a few minutes at a time since the accident.

"Answer it. You've ignored his calls at least a half dozen times while here and that's not good for a guys' ego." Todd said with a small chuckle. "Besides, I'm pretty sure my mom's gonna get you out soon anyway. I'll see you later Ginny."

I laughed and then answered the phone. "Hey James!" I said happily. I waved to Todd as I left, listening to James on the other end. "Yeah I've missed you too." We chatted as I crossed through Todd and my back yards and I sat back on one of the pool lounge chairs. "That's great!" I said excitedly as James told me he'd gotten second at the regional event we'd left early. He was swamped with practices for the state tournament lately. An hour later my dad came out and found me still talking. He tapped his watch to tell me it was time to hang up and I said good bye to James and followed my dad in the house.

Due to the underage drinking and the damage to public property, Todd had to appear in front of a judge a few weeks after the accident. While his burns were not completely healed, they'd healed enough he was able to move around some in small doses. I got up early so I could see him off the morning of his court appearance. "So?" Todd said adjusting his tie again anxiously. "How do I look?"

"Good, clean and respectful." I said brush a stray hair from his jacket. I gave him a reassuring smile.

"I wish you could come, would be nice to have a friendly face." Todd said.

"Just be respectful, honest and good." I said. "Accept whatever he gives you with grace."

"Right, respectful...." Todd said looking at his hands.

I took his hands in mind and gave them a quick squeeze. "You can do this." I said softly. "And I'll be there in spirit." I said.

"Thank you Ginny." he said pulling me into a tight hug. His strong arms nearly crushed me against his body but I didn't stop him or protest. Mrs. Anderson's heels clicked on the tile floor and Todd released me and then we followed her out of the house quietly. I watched them drive away before heading to school by myself.

The rumors about Todd's accident had been flying for weeks but most assumed he'd fallen asleep at the wheel or swerved to miss something. Somehow it hadn't gotten out that he'd been drinking. "Did you know?!" Timothy and Veronica asked me in unison as they approached me that morning. Erik walked up before I got a chance to answer and lingered, apparently wanting to know what I had to say as well.

"Did I know what?" I asked looking around as if the faces of the students around me would have an answer. Half of them were looking at me, the other half seemed to be looking anywhere but me. "What's going on?"

"Did you know Todd was drinking?" Veronica hissed. "When he got in his wreck?"

Ah! "Who told you that?" I asked evading the question, already knowing it was one of those 'A heard it from B who heard it from C's sister....' situations.

"Bella did." Timothy said. "Her uncle works at the police station apparently. I'm not sure as what..."

"She's telling everyone that Todd was driving drunk, which is why he has a court appearance today. Is it true? And did you know?" Veronica asked, having taken over for Timothy.

I glanced over at Bella, who had new victims in her grasp. I saw Erik watching me curiously but I ignored them all as I watched Bella animatedly tell her tale - which unfortunately was true.

I turned away from the scene and my friends and fished out my books for the morning and slammed the locker door shut, drawing attention. Apparently everyone assumed I would confirm their suspicions about Todd seeing as I was his best friend. With another look around, I saw Dirk standing near Mark from the school paper. Mark was watching me, probably already composing tomorrow's article based on my reaction. I stared past my friends at him. "No comment." I said and left them all standing there looking confused.

Erik was the first to react and hurried after me. "Gin, hey Gin wait up." he said as he wove through the crowd. It had parted for me easily but had closed back in as I passed so he had a harder time getting through.

I was the first one in my first period class and Erik slid in right after me even though his class was on the other side of the building. "What?" I asked leaning against the wall and looking at him.

"I wanted to make sure you're okay. There's a lot of talk - most of it is BS, I'm sure but....there's a lot of talk." Erik said.

"There always is around here. Nothing spreads faster than a rumor. True or otherwise." I said.

Erik looked like he was about to ask something, maybe ask if it was true or not but as a couple other students filtered in, he thought better of it. We looked at each other for a moment before he just nodded. "I better get to class." he said. He gave me a quick, awkward hug and then left.

My classmates were staring at me but didn't say anything until Erik had left. "Are you and Todd Anderson a couple? I heard you were."...."Were you in the accident? I heard you were there!"...

I think they asked more questions but I tuned them out and took my seat as more people flowed into the classroom, most of them staring at me. My morning classes felt like they dragged by and even trying to tune people out, I heard more rumors about Todd and myself than I cared to know about. Most of them were false but I worried about Todd coming back to all this. He was supposed to be back in school for the second half of the day assuming his court appearance didn't take long and I knew my experiences would pale in comparison.

"If you knew, and I'm not saying you did, just if you did - you should have told someone." Timothy was saying as I stood absently by his locker. Veronica seemed to be agreeing and Erik was staying silent. I wondered what he was thinking as I stared into the crowd of students lingering between classes.

Without looking at them I spoke as I caught the first glimpse of Todd walking through the gossipy crowd. "If it had been you - for whatever reason - would you have forgiven me if I'd told?" I asked. I pushed through the people to meet Todd half way.

"Ginny!" Todd said, clearly relieved to see me. "What's going on?" he asked quietly, hazarding a glance around. Behind him I could see several of the years' exes watching our exchange.

"Gossip and rumors - and you're - well we are the star attraction." I said quietly. "How did it go?" Before he could reply, the bell rang, sending some of the audience scattering but most were still watching us. I gave him a quick hug. "We'll talk later - try to ignore the sharks." I said with a faint smile.

As we hugged, I could have sworn I heard a whispered "See, I told you!" or two but I resisted the urge to seek out the gossips. The rest of the day was as painful as the start, with Todd there, the gossip became louder and people got braver - peppering me with questions I refused to answer.

I hurried out of school and caught up with Todd in front of the school. We both took one look at the bus and decided that thirty minutes trapped in a cage being stared at was too much to handle so we stated walking in silence. "That was...." Todd started but trailed off.

"Horrifying? Long? Tedious? Annoying? Stop me when I hit the right adjective." I said with a small smile.

"All of the above." Todd said. "I'm sorry Ginny, that you seemed to have gotten pulled in like this."

I shrugged. "Eh, by next week something else will happen and they won't give either of us the time of day." I waited a moment, hoping Todd was speak up. "So...."

"Community service, rehab program and a fine." Todd said. "My dad was there and paid the fine but I'm sure that won't be the end of that. He barely looked at me all morning and he and my mom were fighting when they dropped me off for school. Nothing new there." I took his hand as we walked. After a few minutes of silence he paused and turned to me. "Thank you Ginny - for being here, just...for being here."

"I'm always here Todd." I said with a smile.

"I wished I'd figured that out six months ago," he said looking away and starting to walk again.

"Why?" I asked, but he didn't answer me, just continued walking toward home. As we approached his house, I saw his dad's car in the drive way and could hear arguing inside. I knew Todd had to get home due to grounding but I pointed toward the back where we could sit and talk without having to go inside. The old swing set Mr. Anderson had built for Todd and Meghan was still there so Todd and I sat down. "What did you mean Todd?" I asked finally.

"Hmm?" Todd evaded my gaze for a few minutes. "When Mei-Ling and I broke up, you were there and having you there made it easier for me. And when my parents started talking divorce, you were there. You were the only light in a dark room. And then we weren't talking to each other and there was just..darkness. My parents were fighting more and I felt like I was grasping around in total darkness. I tried dating - to get over Mei-Ling, to get over you, to distract myself. They were fun I guess, but none of it lasted obviously. And then Dirk offered me that beer and the darkness seemed like more of a fog - and that wasn't so bad. So I drank again. By the time you and I started talking, I was drinking three or four times a week just to avoid everything." he paused and must have detected something on my face. "I don't blame you Ginny - please don't think I'm putting this on you. It was all me. I realize that now anyway."

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Ginny, you are the best friend I have. Sometimes I think you're the only friend I have. After we started talking again, I told myself I wouldn't drink anymore. And for a couple weeks, I didn't. Then over the holidays, more and more boxes started piling up as my dad prepared to move out and I would come home and see my mom crying and it hurt, for months I had been numbing the pain with alcohol or girls or just being busy but I was angry with my dad for putting us through all this and I was feeling all the pain I'd been avoiding and I went to Dirk's and drank a lot for the rest of the school break. I spent as much time away from home as I could. And then my birthday happened and my dad picked that day of all days to move out. He never even acknowledged my birthday other than giving me the keys to the car. And that card...." he stopped and looked pained as he recalled it.

"And you got drunk, and stumbled to my house." I said finishing for him.

"I didn't mean to, I don't think. I'm kind of glad I did but I don't think I meant to come to your house that night." Todd said. "I loved her." he said switching tracks slightly. "I don't think I realized how much until she was gone."

I was silent, not sure what I could say to comfort him or if he wanted me to say something.

"You are the only one I can talk to Ginny - my parents..." he paused a second and we both listened to them continuing to fight inside. "Well they are so involved in their own crap that until the accident I wasn't sure they even remembered they had a son."

We sat quietly together for several minutes, listening to the arguing inside. "Are you going to do the rehab?" I asked finally.

"Yeah, I don't really have a choice but I think it would probably be good. Right?" he looked over at me.

"Probably." I said. "I hope it helps." I realized the sky was turning pink as the sun started to set. "You should probably go inside before they start wondering."

"Yeah. I'll see you tomorrow?" he sounded nervous, like I might say no after all he'd told me.

"Of course, I'll always be there for you." I said as we both stood. I gave him a hug. I was halfway through his gate when he called out to me.

"Hey Ginny?" he called. "Why didn't you tell anyone - after that night? Why didn't you tell your dad or my mom?"

"Wasn't my secret to tell was it?" I asked. "Should I have?"

"No, I don't know, maybe...." he said confused. "Thanks though, for being a friend." I smiled at him and waved as he headed inside to face his parents. I walked through my own yard considering if I should have told someone or not.

At the time, I thought being a friend was keeping him out of trouble. In hindsight, if I'd told maybe he never would have gotten in the wreck, maybe it would have gotten help sooner. Oh maybe he would have hated me for betraying him and would have gotten worse faster. When I walked into my house and saw my dad reading at the table I was still conflicted. "Hey kiddo." he said looking up from his book and giving me a smile.

"Hey." I said meekly. I walked up beside him and he stood to give me a hug. "I knew." I said before he even got turned to face me.

"I knew Todd had been drinking. And I didn't tell. Was I wrong?" I asked, hoping my dad - who always had the answers - would have the answer this time.

End Chapter

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