"Well?" I asked after my dad had remained silent for several moments. "Daddy?"
"I'm not sure, to be honest, kiddo. Do I wish you would have told me? Yes, of course." he finally replied and paused then. "But I think I understand why you didn't."
"You do?" I was both happy and surprised to hear that from him.
"Yes. Was it the best choice? I don't know. But you can't always wonder what if." he said with a smile. Despite his words I detected a bit of disappointment In his voice and demeanor. "Come on, it's game night and I plan to win this time." he said with a laugh.
"Oh you are on." I said with a smirk. Dad hadn't beat me at video games in months. We played for awhile only talking about the game and egging each other on. I assumed the Todd subject was dropped but I couldn't get the idea that he was disappointed in my decision out of my mind.
"I did what you're doing for a long time after your mom died." he said with no preamble.
"What?" I asked taking my eyes from the TV to look at him.
"Wondered if I'd done things differently would things have been different. If I worked less, if I was home that night, if I'd spent more time with you two back then..." he trailed off, looking away from me. "I worked a lot back then, too much even. Your mom was always trying to get me to work less but I was ambitious and wanted too much too fast. After that night I questioned everything. If I'd been home, would we have all gone together, stayed longer and thus missed the intersection at that particular moment. Would we have even gone out at all? Or maybe I would have gone out and brought the ice cream back." he stopped and turned to look at me finally. Both our characters were motionless on the video game.
I was sure my mouth was hanging open. Dad never talked about that night. "But a million different things could have happened that night based on a million different things, even if you were home..."
"That's my point kiddo. If you had told me or Mrs. Anderson about Todd, maybe he could have gotten help sooner. Maybe he would have found new ways to hide his drinking, maybe he would have felt so betrayed that he tried harder things like drugs. A lot of things could have happened. You made what you thought was the right decision at that moment. You could spend months wondering if it was the best decision and debating with yourself but in the end, it's done." he said giving me a smile, this time I couldn't detect any disappointment in his face. "And thankfully Todd is fine, for the most part. He's got a lot of healing to do, physically and mentally but he's better off with you in his life and knowing he can trust you.
I leaned toward him and gave him a tight hug. "Thank you Daddy."
The following weeks ushered in the heat of impending summer. The gossip about Todd died out as students and staff turned their attention to plans for the end of the school year and summer plans. Even though there was still a few weeks of school remaining, most people were suffering from summer-itis and it became more and more apparent with each day.
One of the last big projects for sophomore science was a field trip to a local farm in the spring. Aside from the growing crops, many of the animals had recently had babies so the farm was a flurry of activity.
Timothy sat with Bella on the bus ride, they had remained together despite Bella seeming to be at the center of much of the gossip about Todd and I. Timothy claimed she was sorry for it but I wondered. She and Timothy wandered off together as soon as we arrived at the farm. Veronica waved and disappeared as well, I wondered where she was off too for a moment before Todd and Erik took up positions on either side of me.
"Where's V off to?" Erik asked watching her departing figure. With no answer, I merely shrugged. Erik turned to me a smiled. "What should be look at first?"
Todd pointed down the nearest path. "Let's go that way."
"Alright." I said walking between the two of them. We passed Veronica eventually - talking to Lance Caulder of all people. I watched her curiously but decided not to comment. Many smaller groups of students had gathered to chat, explore and gossip during the field trip.
We had to stop a few times due to overcrowding but eventually wove our way through the crowds. Every once in awhile I would catch a snippet of conversation and turn to find eyes on us. Apparently the gossip about Todd wasn't as dead as I'd thought (or hoped). When they saw me meeting their gaze, they would turn away. Todd seemed oblivious to it all.
I had no idea where we were going until Erik and Todd stopped and I bumped into both of them. "Oof, sorry!" I said with a sheepish smile.
Erik smirked. "Care to join us on planet Earth Gin?" he joked.
I chuckled. "Sorry. Guess I sort of zoned there." I said squeezing between them. I felt closer to Erik and Todd than I'd ever felt to Veronica. I glanced around again, wondering where she was and what she was up to. I gave up looking and returned my gaze forward. "Horse." I said, realizing how lame it sounded as soon as it escaped my lips - it's just that horse was right in front of us.
"Very good Ginny." Todd said with a laugh. It was great to hear him laugh, even at my expense. "Can you tell use what the winged, feathery creatures are too?"
"Errr...." I pretended to think. "Cows?" I joked. Erik and Todd laughed beside me and I giggled a long with them. I reached out to stroke the horse gently and after a moment wondered if we were supposed to touch the animals. No one was rushing to stopped me so I kept petting the gorgeous black animal.
After several minutes, Todd turned from the horse. "Everything okay Todd?" I asked looking at him.
"Yeah, just a little sore. Too much walking I think. I'm gonna go see if I can find a haystack to sit on or something okay?" he asked. Erik and I both nodded and watched him limp away. Even though his burns and injuries were mostly healed, I knew he was still hurting at times - and was too stubborn to rest usually.
"How's James?" Erik asked after a lingering silence between us. He tried to seem nonchalant about the question, but as he looked away from me, I knew he didn't really want to know.
"Okay I guess." I said thinking about James. We hadn't really had a chance to talk to each other much, let alone see each other. The state tournament was in a little over a week and his debate coaches were taking up just about every moment of his time. When he'd called a couple nights ago, he'd dozed off while we were talking and I told him to go to bed.
"You guess?" Erik prompted, drawing me out of my thoughts.
"Er, yeah - he's going to the state-wide Speech and Debate Tournament next week so he's been busy and my dad has been insisting on more father-daughter time lately, ever since Todd's accident." I said. "Not much time for dating." I said with a weak laugh.
Erik nodded. "It'll get better in a few weeks, summer's coming up - lots of free time then right?" he said. I sighed. Summer - it should be a wonderful opportunity to spend time with James and my dad but plans were already made. "What? What's the matter Gin?"
"Well for one, my dad and I made plans to do this whole east coast tour over the summer; for like two months. It'll be fun but no time for James. Besides, if James does well at the state tournament, he'll be off to the national tournament and even if he doesn't, he's doing a summer internship in Washington for all of July and August. So even when I do get back, he'll be gone." I said slumping against the fence. "Don't get me wrong, I'm really looking forward to the east coast thing with my dad!"
Erik put his arm around my shoulders and smiled. "I know you are but you're disappointed about missing time with James - I get that." We fell into another silence, but it didn't feel awkward to me as I leaned into Erik and took comfort in his presence. "Come on, let's go check out the crops - get our hands dirty." Before I could object, he led me over to one of the fields. We'd been told we could harvest and pick things if we liked to eat for lunch or just to take home. I wasn't really interested in taking anything home but looking over all the crop varieties was interesting.
As if triggered by the sight of fresh food, my stomach grumbled. Erik and I laughed. "Guess we better harvest ourselves some lunch!" Erik said with a grin.
"Ow!" I said as I fought the tomato plant for a single tomato. "I don't think I'm designed to 'live off the land'" I said tugging. The tomato squished in my hand and tomato guts covered my hand and pant leg. "Yeah, I am a city girl."
Erik was laughing at me and I turned to give him a fake glare. It was pretty funny, I couldn't deny that. "Okay, I'll harvest your lunch." he said easily pulling a tomato off. He held it up to me like he was going to toss it to me and I flinched away. He burst out laughing again. "I wouldn't throw it! Of course then your shirt would probably match your pants." he said with a wink. He pulled another tomato off and walked over to me, holding one out to me.
"Thanks." I said taking it. "Let's see what else they have, surely I can wrestle some grapes off a vine or something." I said grinning. We wove through the students and this time I didn't hear any gossip until we passed a couple of Todd's ex's and Alan something or other. I followed their gaze until I saw Todd lingering near Timothy and Bella. At the same time I saw Bella watching Todd and barely constraining a giggle of her own.
Erik and I walked past them toward another field and I saw Todd sit down in the picnic area, attempting to ignore them. We'd chosen apples for our next battle and were deep in the trees when I heard shouting, I instantly recognized Todd's voice and soon distinguished Alan's and Kimi's from the mix. "Come on!" I called to Erik before making a dash for the picnic tables, where I suspected they were.
Erik beat me out of the trees and I could tell he picked up his pace as he took in the scene in front of him. "Todd! No!" he called out but his voice couldn't be heard over the cacophony of voices and bellows of the students all around.
Erik skidded to a halt as he neared the edge of the crowd and I skidded behind him. Together we attempted to push our way to the front of the crowd, with Ms. Moore closing in as well. "Break it up!" she called.
"Now!!" bellowed Coach Tyson, pushing through from the other side. "Move! Go!" he said to the students as he made his way to the center where Todd and Alan were brawling. The students parted easily as the teachers came through and allowed them to pulled Todd and Alan apart - although they groaned as the fight came to an end.
"Both of you are suspended for the rest of the day, you'll return to the school and meet with Principal Watts." Ms. Moore said firmly. Alan immediately protested that it was all Todd's doing and that Todd had thrown the first punch. Todd, while clearly annoyed, chose not to argue with the teachers.
Ultimately Coach Reed escorted them both back to the school hours before the rest of us returned on the bus. Shortly after they'd left, I heard a familiar snickering and turned to see Bella giggling. Timothy turned on her. "What do you find so funny?"
"Well you have to admit..." she trailed off when she looked at Timothy. "Or not." she said sobering up.
"Yeah, right." Timothy said rolling his eyes. "You know what Bella, it's over." he said.
"What?! Why?" she sputtered.
"Because you are not the person I thought you were." Timothy said a little loudly.
I cringed just as Bella did. But Timothy turned on his heel and stomped over to where Erik and I were standing. "Sorry." I said quietly.
"Don't be." Timothy said. With still no sign of Veronica, Erik, Timothy and I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the farm together. We didn't talk about Bella. We didn't talk about James. We didn't really talk about Todd. We made jokes and had a few vegetable fights that I'm sure Ms. Moore would not have approved of and we laughed together.
I waited until near dark before going over to the Anderson's that night. Mrs. Anderson told me Todd couldn't have ANY visitors and sent me home. I looped around to the back off the house quietly and looked at the tree that I knew had branches right next to Todd's room. I had last climbed it about six years ago and I wasn't sure if I could do it but I wanted to check on him. After several near misses and a badly scrapped knee, I tapped several times on Todd's window until I got his attention.
"Ginny!" Todd said a little loudly as he scrambled to open the window. "What are you doing here....in a tree? I have a door ya know."
"Yeah except your mom won't let me in." I said quietly. "I wanted to check on you." The wind chose that moment to blow and I dug my nails into the bark and instantly regretted it as small splinters stung my fingers. I grimaced.
"Well that's great - not sure it's worth climbing this old tree but I appreciate it." Todd said.
"Okay, enough - what happened?" I asked hoping each moment that I didn't fall from the tree, break my leg and probably join Todd in the grounded for life department.
Todd sighed. "Suspended for a week, grounded for all eternity now. I shouldn't have swung, I know that! But Alan wouldn't shut up."
I nodded. "Are you going to be able to make up the work from your medical absences and the suspension in just a couple weeks?" I knew he was still trying to make up the work following the accident and I wondered if he's be able to pass his classes for the semester.
Todd shrugged. "I don't know Ginny, I hope so. Maybe if I tell my mom we're studying you can avoid the tree next time?" I laughed and nearly lost my balance. "Go on and get down before you break your leg. I'll see you at school....in a week or so."
I smiled. "Stay strong, I'm just next door if you decide to make a prison break - although I wouldn't advise it." I carefully got down from the tree and was almost spotted by Mrs. Anderson but ducked out of sight and ran home quietly.