"Veronica, where are your parents?" Dad asked first.
"I don't know." Veronica replied. He must have looked skeptical because she continued. "I swear I don't. They've been gone since like October. They used to call or email so I knew where they were but the calls stopped and then the emails stopped..." she tried to look uncaring as she shrugged but I could see the torrent of emotion in her eyes.
"What about the bills, food, allowance?" Dad continued.
"We have an accountant who takes care of all that." V explained.
"I'll need his name and number if possible." Dad said. "Do you have any other family nearby that I can call?"
"Um...." I wasn't sure if she was thinking of a lie or actually having to think if she had family nearby.
"She has an aunt that owns a winery...she spent the summer there a couple years ago." I chimed in after a moment of silence. Veronica turned toward me and I expected some sort of hateful glare but she actually looked calm...maybe thankful? I couldn't be sure.
"She's right, she's my great aunt actually. I have a couple other uncles but I haven't seen them since I was two or three years old." Veronica confirmed and then had to stifle a big yawn.
"Okay - I need some names and any contact information you have." Yawns are contagious, especially when it was four in the morning and no one had really slept, so soon we were all yawning. "Let's get something to wake us up a bit."
We relocated the little meeting to the kitchen and dad started making some coffee. "Veronica...Ginny is right, I took guardianship of you until such time as your parents get back or another family member comes. So you'll be staying here. I expect you home everyday after school and if you go out on the weekends it will be with Ginny..."
"Dad!" I protested as the same time Veronica said "Whatever..."
My dad held up his hand to silence us. "It should only be for a week or so. No parties, no drinking, no stealing, no breaking curfew and no sneaking out am I understood?"
"Yeah." Veronica was staring into her coffee cup as she said it.
I wanted to protest more - the last thing I wanted was to be babysitting Veronica for a week or possibly longer but I could tell from the look on my dad's face that this was one of those 'suck it up' moments.
In all the drama of the night, I'd forgotten about my promise to Tim to escort some of the incoming Freshman on a tour of the high school. When I got to school that morning, Erik was at my locker. "Ready?"
"For?" I asked confused.
"Dealing with a gaggle of freshmen for a few hours." he pointed out the window to the football field where Tim and other student council members were trying to herd the eighth graders into some sort of order. Todd, another volunteer, was surrounded by a group already.
"Oh man, is that today?" I asked, followed by a large yawn. "Not enough caffeine in the 'verse." I muttered.
"You okay?" Erik asked concerned.
"Long...long night." I answered. I plastered a fake smile on my face. "Okay...show me to the fish..." I said with a smirk.
We were scheduled to spend the first two periods of the school day with them and were supposed to show them around the school, answer their questions and generally give them High School 101. My group consisted of a couple girls and one guy. One of the girls asked a lot of questions while the others were silent and mostly bored. I ran into Todd, Tim, Erik and Nai'a with their groups occasionally and the two bored looking ones would get more animated when they encountered friends.
Between first and second period, Veronica found me in the hall and placed her hand on my arm, trying to steer me away from my group. "Hey Gin...um can we talk a moment..."
"I'm kind of busy..." I said pointing to the students who were now watching us intently.
"Who are they?" Veronica asked while a look of mild annoyance and disgust passed over her face.
"They'll be Freshmen next year, we're showing them around campus." I said and was going to introduce them by name but I knew Veronica really wouldn't care. "So, I don't really have time right now..."
"Fine...whatever...can you just not tell anyone? About the police and all?" V asked. "Please?" she added; it almost sounded sincere!
"Sure." I shrugged, I wasn't in the mood to talk about Veronica anyway. "But it will get out ya know? Todd lives next door...he's gonna start to wonder..."
"Just don't say anything...I gotta go." And she was off again.
I turned back to my group and they were grinning. "Was she arrested?" one of them asked while another asked "What for?"
"She was...ya know what, it's not really your business." I said with a laugh. "Come on...onward!" They started whispering their theories about Veronica between each other while we walked. "This is the Home Ec room," I said as I opened the door. I was surprised to find another group there already. "Oh! Erik! Sorry, we'll let you guys finish first."
"No it's fine. We're just about done here." he said with a smile.
He ushered his students out into the hall and then turned back, holding the door open. "Hey, you busy next Friday?"
"Um...well there's the awards ceremony - I said I'd go for Todd and Tim..." I said, suddenly feeling a flurry of butterflies in my stomach.
"Right....well how about after?" he persisted.
"Nothing that I know of why?" I could feel my noisy charges staring again, ready to start peppering me with questions.
"Wanna go on a date? Ya know we haven't gone on a real, official one yet..." Erik said with a smile.
"Sure, sounds great." I smiled and was about to lean in for a quick kiss when we both felt the presence of our little groups around us. I glance back at them and they all looked in different directions. "I'll see you later." I said as my cheeks flushed a bit.
Before the door closed behind him, my groups burst with questions. "Is he your boyfriend!?"
Outside in the hall, one of the girls from Erik's group was asking a similar question "Is she your girlfriend?"
"Moving right along!" I said after a moment. We lingered in the Home Ec room for a few minutes so I knew Erik's group would have moved on by the time we came out.
We were on our way to the gym, the little freshmen-to-be were buzzing about Erik and Veronica the whole way. Todd and his group fell into step with us and the buzz got louder as the two groups exchanged chatter about their mornings so far.
"I'm worried about Mei-Ling" Todd announced suddenly.
"Who's Mei-Ling?" one of the others asked.
I rolled my eyes and wasn't going to respond by Todd stopped and turned toward them. "She's my girlfriend, she goes to CSU." the fact that he was dating a college student earned him a round of 'oooohs' from the group.
"Is that Erik guy her boyfriend?" one of mine asked.
"Yeah I guess..." Todd looked at my questioningly. "Well, I don't know actually - he was once and they broke up but now..."
"Why was Veronica arrested?" another asked.
"Veronica was arrested?!" Todd asked looking at me in surprise.
"No! Enough! Why are you worried about Mei-Ling?" I asked, trying to tune out the cluster around us.
"Oh, well she's just gotten distant...I don't know, I think this whole fiance thing is more of a problem than she's letting on." Todd said, looking down.
"Your girlfriend is engaged?!" one of the group asked. "And not to you?!"
Todd looked at them like he'd forgotten they were there. "Um..."
I just shook my head and tried not to laugh. "Well, I would imagine having a fiance...whether arranged or not...would be a small problem but she doesn't even seem to like the guy Todd."
"I guess..." he said, turning away from our audience again.
"We'll talk about it later okay?" I motioned to the others. He nodded and led his own group away just in time for Nai'a to show up. Our two groups walked together to the gym and then we released the students to join their friends. All the groups were ending here so they could be returned to their own school.
"Can you meet me after school?" Nai'a asked.
"I have to drive V home.." I said, she looked at me curiously but I decided not to try and explain.
"It will only take a few minutes, there's someone I want you to meet." she said.
"Ginny, this is Mr. Falkman; he's the teacher in charge of the newspaper...." Nai'a said. I'd agreed to meet with her for a few minutes after making sure Veronica was accounted for and would be waiting.
"One moment please." he said as he typed quickly on the computer. I could see that he was in the process of saving his work. He stood a moment later and turned toward us. "You must be Genevieve Bartlett...the articles you've submitted were wonderful."
"Well..thank you." I said. "It was fun to do."
"I was hoping you'd consider joining us full time next year? I know you've probably already started picking out your classes for next year but I'd love to have you on the staff next year." he said and started explaining the extent of work, the journalism electives and a lot of other information that was a bit too much to take in.
"Well, I'll certainly think about." I said. "I really hadn't settled on any electives yet..."
"Good good, I'll leave it to Nai'a to convince you." he said with a smile. "It was nice to meet you."
Nai'a was grinning as we left the classroom. "That was....odd." I said.
"What's so odd about it? You're a great writer and it would look awesome on your college apps. Come on Ginny, just think about it! Could be a lot of fun."
"I was serious when I said I'd think about it - I will I promise." I said. Veronica was looking mildly annoyed as she waited by her locker. "Well, I better go. Thanks." I waved to her and approached V. She didn't say anything the whole car ride back to the house or while we did our homework at the table together.
Later that night, I heard a faint knock on my door. "Come in." I called barely looking up from my book. Veronica stood in the doorway holding a familiar looking teddy bear.
"Gin..." she said, hesitating by the door. "I wanted to return this to you..." she said, looking at the bear.
"I remember that bear!" I said with a small chuckle. "I thought I lost it..."
"Well...I sort of took it and I'm really sorry about that..." she said as her cheeks flushed in embarrassment.
"I think I remember, you spent the night right? And were feeling homesick..." I tried to remember back to that night - it was before my mom had died. "My mom suggested I let you sleep with something of mine, something comforting..."
"And you gave me the bear..." Veronica said. "And then I took it home with me and didn't tell you."
She held the bear out to me and I took it, looking over the worn patches around the eyes and in other areas. "Thanks." I said. "This was my mom's bear when she was a girl..."
"Oh man, that makes me feel about a thousand times worse!" Veronica looked away from me. "I'm really sorry Gin...not just for the bear but for everything..."
I didn't know what to say or how to respond really. She really did look sorry and seemed to be struggling with her emotions - which was odd for Veronica.
After a few minutes of silence, I just nodded. "Okay..." It was awkward between us at first, for awhile we just sort of stood there looking at each other. I wanted to believe her, I wanted to believe she was sorry and all but she'd said the same lines before...many times before.
But when my dad came in to check on us, we were sitting comfortably on the bed just talking about little stuff - nothing important really - but just talking was a step in the right direction I think. My dad watched us for a moment and smiled.
Credits: Simselves from Tippie, Terra, Kitty, Berry, Jake, Grace and Laura appeared in this chapter as the "Fish"