"Overall, you're doing well." Nai'a said as she looked over the notebook. In being introduced by Timothy, she'd fallen into the group in the midst of the election and volunteered to help out. "Veronica isn't really campaigning for herself so much as smearing you and your friends."
"What does she gain from smearing my friends?" Timothy asked, mostly to himself.
Nai'a shrugged. "Nothing really as far as the campaigning - but the rumors about you...." she trailed off.
"What?" Timothy asked. "What is she saying?"
"Well...I'm not sure you want to know..." Nai'a stalled. She was grateful when their drinks arrived and she was able to avoid his questioning look for a few minutes. "She's implying that you may have....hit her, when you were dating." Nai'a glanced over at Timothy and saw he was clearly startled. "And she is dragging Bella into it."
"Did Bella say as much?" Timothy asked.
"No!" Nai'a said quickly. "She has never actually confirmed it - but she's not denying anything so she may as well have as far as Veronica is concerned."
"Wow." Timothy said simply.
"You must be so angry with her." Nai'a said. "I know I would be!"
"Not angry - disappointed." Timothy replied.
"In who?" I asked, approaching the table with James. "Sorry, didn't intend to overhear." I added quickly.
Nai'a looked at Timothy to reply, when he didn't even look at her, she turned toward me. "Veronica." she said with an eye roll.
"Ah, news from the front then?" I asked as I pulled out the menu and skimmed it, giving Nai'a most of my attention since I knew the menu already. "What is it this week?"
"Her campaign is a smear campaign?" James interrupted. We all nodded in response. Unlike James, we'd been hearing the lies, rumors and catching the glances every day for the last two weeks. "Nothing about issues?"
"It's high school...we don't really have issues" I said with a smile. "Least not that Student Council can solve."
Everyone chuckled then. "True I suppose but it can still be more than a popularity contest. Student Council does important stuff." James replied. "Will there be a debate?"
"Yes, on Thursday all the contested races have the chance for a debate. Friday is the vote." Timothy said. "You're a debater, a very good one according to Genevieve," James smiled at me and I smiled back a little sheepishly; yeah I'd bragged a little bit. "Any suggestions?" Timothy said drawing my attention back.
James was off and running with things about what to wear, what to say, what not to say and I admit, I tuned him out. I found myself scanning the diner until I saw Erik behind the counter and waved at him. He half waved back before I saw his attention focused elsewhere. Following his line of sight, I saw Mei-Ling walk in. Followed closely by Todd.
"Freedom?" I said when the pair approached our table.
"Freedom" Todd said with a goofy grin I'd missed seeing on his face.
"With provisions." Mei-Ling chimed in; a cloud of sadness of some sort passed over her face for a moment. From what Todd had told me, she had yelled at him in Chinese for close to an hour when he'd told her what had happened last year. Still, she'd ultimately forgiven him and was now holding his hand firmly, as if afraid to let go of him again.
Timothy, Nai'a and James were still deep in election talk; I'm not sure they'd even seen Todd and Mei-Ling, let alone acknowledged them. I attempted to let James know I was going to order and he murmured some sort of acknowledgment but kept talking to Timothy. I chuckled as I walked up to the counter.
"Hey Gin." Erik said, giving me a smile - a shadow of the smile I so loved on him. It was strained; glancing over toward James I suspected I knew why. "What can I get for you?"
"Um, two burgers, fries and two sodas please." I said. He busied himself with the order just a few feet away. I could have returned to the table but with one look I knew they were still talking election strategy.
James was in his element and his face was animated the more he spoke. I continued to watch them while Erik was getting our order. "He's gonna be great one day." I said quietly, to myself mostly.
"Hmm?" Erik asked turning toward me.
I waved it off. "Nothing, talking to myself is all."
"You should be careful with that, people will think you're crazy." Erik teased.
I chuckled. "I wouldn't doubt it." I said.
"These fries will be a few minutes, I can bring them to your table if you like." Erik said.
"Nah, I'll wait. They're talking about the election and campaign strategy." I said.
"Ah, not your thing." Erik said. He leaned on the counter across from me. "How are you Gin?"
"I'm okay, everyone has forgotten about the Bart rumors since V has kept the rumor mill going." I said. I glanced around the diner to avoid too much direct eye contact with Erik. In doing so I noticed several people looking out direction but as soon as they saw me glance their way, they'd turn quickly.
"Order up." Erik said, dragging my attention away from the curious onlookers. What had V done now? I reach for the plates and our hands grazed.
"Thanks Erik." I said, pushing the rest of the diner occupants from my mind.
"No problem." he said and turned his attention back to the soda machine. James came over then, having broken off the conversation with Timothy long enough to realize I couldn't carry everything in one trip.
We took an empty table, away from Timothy and election talk, to my great relief. "Sorry about that." James said looking embarrassed. "I think I got a bit distracted."
I smirked. "A bit." I teased. "But if it helps Tim's election, it's all good." I added. James gave me his attention for the rest of the meal and I tried to ignore the tingling sensation on my neck that told me I was being watched.
At my door after our date, James lingered longer than normal. His college classes would be starting next week which meant our time together would be cut down more. "I'm sorry about this."
"About what?" I asked confused, as he'd said it out of the blue.
"The weekend classes, not being able to spend time together." James replied.
"Don't be sorry James, you're doing what is needed for you to graduate - nothing wrong with that." I felt like I was lying to him as I said. I didn't really blame him for what he was doing but I still felt abandoned a bit.
"Okay..." he sound as unconvinced as I was but he dropped the subject. He gave me another lingering kiss before wishing me good night.
It was Thursday before I found out why everyone in the Diner had been watching me. Halfway to class, Erik walked up to me and hijacked my path, leading me into an empty stairwell. "You should know what the latest rumor is." he said quickly; glancing over the railing to see if anyone was on the stairs below.
I cringed. "Oh no, what now?" I asked pinching the bridge of my nose.
"That you are cheating on your boyfriend James....with me." Erik said. He leaned against the rail and seemed to focus his gaze on his feet.
"Oh no she didn't...." my eyes were wide and my cheeks flamed with heat immediately. I headed for the door so fast, Erik had to scramble to stop me. His firm arm held me back from going after V for another pointless confrontation.
"It won't do any good but to fuel her on Gin." Erik said softly. He held on to me until I stopped trying to resist. "James doesn't go to school here, there's no reason for him to hear and even if he does - he trusts you."
"Right. Right. I'm sure you're right...." I muttered. "I better get to class...." I opened the door to the stair well and paused.
"Gin?" Erik asked when I stopped. "You okay?"
"Yeah." I said not looking at him. "Thanks....for telling me." I glanced back over his shoulder and smiled weakly. I left finally and hoped I didn't run into Veronica. Well, honestly, part of me hoped I did run into her.
At the debate assembly that afternoon, I couldn't help but glare at her instead of paying attention to the words being exchanged.
"You can't promise people more school vacations Veronica!" Timothy said loudly, drawing my attention towards him. He was obviously growing frustrated with her.
In response she merely shrugged and grinned. "Why not?"
"Because it's not something the student council has any say over." Timothy said. "If you'd ever been a member of Student Council you would know that."
"According to the handbook, the student council assists in setting the school calendar..." Veronica retorted.
"The social calendar - events such as school dances, pep rallies, parties, spirit week. The district school board determines holidays - which have already been determined for this school year." Timothy replied, I could tell he was trying not to yell or laugh at her.
Veronica made a lame excuse and a joke that garnered a handful of laughs from the crowd. The rest of the debate went about the same. Veronica was generally making a mockery of the whole election but considering the student body was fairly apathetic toward the whole process, her jokes may actually win their votes over Timothy's serious approach.
Just as the debate ended, I could sense that Timothy was restless. When he hurried away from the crowd with his cell phone in hand I couldn't help but wonder what was up. I waited a respectable distance from him, under the pretense of wishing him congrats for the debate until he was done but I didn't have a chance to say anything. When he turned off the phone and look toward me, I could see his eyes were damp with unshed tears and sadness was etch across his entire body. "Tim?" I said softly.
"Ginny..." he said, it was probably the only time he'd ever called me by a nickname and I knew something had really rattled him. He stared through me for several moments before speaking. "Can I have a ride somewhere?" he said simply.
"Sure Tim...anywhere you need...." I said. "What's up...."
Ten minutes later I parked the car and Timothy jumped out of the car and ran toward the building. I scrambled out of the car as well, locking it with a click as I followed.
Inside, I nearly ran into him as he'd stopped a few feet inside the doors, seemingly unable to move any further. I put my hand in his and gave it a good squeeze so he knew I was there.