"Ginny!" Mr. Falkman called my attention away from the computer screen. I glanced over at him curiously and he motioned me over. "I was reading the article you submitted about the Fire Pit - I like it...but it needs more."
"More?" I asked, trying to remember what all I'd said. It had been a couple weeks since I'd even turned it in and I'd only written it as an attempt to get away from Erika.
"Pictures! It's all about the new look of the club but no pictures!" he said thrusting a copy of my own article at me. "Go back - take one of the photographers..."
"Oh! okay! I'll get Nai'a" I said glancing around for my favorite photographer.
"Nai'a is off on an assignment!" he snapped. Then he looked around the room for a moment. "Gene! You can take Gene." he was already motioning someone over so I stepped aside. Who the heck was Gene?
I shoved the papers into my bag and stepped out into the hall. The Pit would be opening for the night soon but some of the pictures might look better with a smaller crowd. "You Ginny?" he asked.
"Yeah, Gene?" I asked, though I must have looked unconvinced because he chuckled. "Sorry, you don't look like a Gene." I said finally.
He waved off my apology and held up his camera bag. "Where to?"
"The Fire Pit." I said quickly pulling my own bag onto my shoulders.
"Cool, lead on." he said. The trip over to the Fire Pit was short - not like our little town was that big. Gene and I talked about school mostly to pass the time and I made a quick call to Erik to see if he could get us in before opening.
To my surprise, Erik was standing by the side door with a grin. "I was here anyway, there's a small private party upstairs." he said before I had a chance to ask.
"Thanks!" I said, giving him a light kiss as greeting. I introduced Gene and Erik to each other and hid my smirk as they seemed to size each other up.
"No problem." he eyed Gene for a second and then smiled again. "Sorry I can't show you around, I have to get back. Just show yourself around."
Gene waited until he was gone before speaking. "Boyfriend?" When I answered in the affirmative, Gene seemed to grunt in acknowledgement before pulling out his camera and focusing his attention the task at hand.
I hung back as he took more pictures than could be needed for the entire newspaper and showed him to each floor. We tried to stay away from the people of the private party when we reached the third floor - they didn't need us bothering them.
I felt like I was constantly looking over Gene's shoulder and probably a nuisance so I walked over to the couches so I could watch both him and Erik, who was playing for the party. I'm still not sure what I tripped on but I felt my foot catch and then I was tumbling forward.
Right into the arms of someone else.
"I'm beginning to think this is a habit of yours, falling down." he said. He awarded me with a small smile when I looked up into his eyes.
"James..." It came out as a disbelieving whisper. He slowly righted me and put me back on my feet. "Sorry. About that." I muttered.
"No problem." he said. "It's good to see you again Ginny."
"You too." I said, fumbling past the desire to tell him how good he looked. I knew Erik was mere feet away and probably watching the whole exchange. Had he recognized James? Surely he had... "So, how's Yale?"
"Good. I came home for a family funeral and the Speech and Debate team from Franklin was having this thing today so I came to see old friends." he said.
I glanced around the room and recognized a few of the faces from Speech and Debate tournaments so I nodded. "A funeral? I'm sorry to hear that."
James nodded and looked down toward the floor for a moment. Maybe he could feel Erik's eyes on us like I could because he glanced toward the small stage. "You and Erik..."
"Yeah." I said. After a long moment of awkward silence, I plastered a smile on my face. "I should go. I suspect Gene is done with the pictures and I have to go shopping for a dress..."
"For?" James asked.
"Homecoming. It's this weekend." I said. On an impulse I gave him a quick, friendly hug. "It was good to see you again James."
The Homecoming game ran late so we all had to scramble to get ready for the dance. Several students involved with the dance set up, including Erik, V and Tim, actually had to leave the game early so that everything would be ready when the rest of the students showed up. When I walked in, fiddling with the heart necklace I was wearing, the first thing I saw was Erik on stage and I smiled at him.
Veronica was also on stage, though I'm not sure she was thrilled about it. Alex was no where to be seen and I wondered if he was still home sick. He'd been out all week with something. Tessa wasn't around either so I knew he must still be nursing the flu.
The room started to fill slowly as students trickled in, most of them happily talking about our overtime win at the game. I hadn't seen any of the football players yet but suspected they were probably still getting ready or picking up their dates.
The one downside to dating the guitar player who was solicited for pretty much every school function was the fact that I rarely had a dance partner. I didn't mind too much but I did miss dancing the slow dances with him in particular.
"So...like, he's like your boyfriend?" Erika chirped, having materialized at my side. She popped her gum a couple times while waiting for a response.
"Yes, he is." I said, trying not to cringe as she popped her gum again.
"He's like a total cutey." she said.
"He's like totally taken." I said, mocking her a bit. Okay a lot.
I felt a tap on my shoulder - at just the right moment because I was about to gouge Erika's eyes out. "Hey." Gene said with an awkward smile.
"Hi Gene!" I said, adding some extra cheerfulness to blot out the encounter with Erika.
"Wanna dance? Seeing as your boyfriend is occupado?" he asked.
"Sure. Thanks for asking." I said. It was a fast paced, dance song and I needed an excuse to get away from Erika.
We shared a couple dances before the music stopped and the spotlights swung over to the entrance. The crowd of students and faculty turned in that direction and burst into cheers and applause when they saw Todd, the captain of their winning football team, standing there with Mei-Ling. The dance goers parted as he was directed toward the stage.
Fact was, our team had a mostly losing streak until this year so every win was more exciting than the last. Todd gave a quick speech and thanked everyone for their support before hopping off the stage with Mei-Ling.
Erik resumed his position with his guitar and sought me out in the crowd. He smiled for a moment but it slipped as he must have taken in Gene. Gene seemed poised to step in as my dance partner again and I considered how to delicately remove myself. Unfortunately I didn't come up with an answer before Erik looked away, turning his attention to Veronica who was singing for the evening.
Gene took my hand as soon as the music started and swung me around toward him. At least someone was having a good time.
I'd barely extracted myself from Gene's constant attention when Timothy stepped up on stage. He'd been elected class VP again so he'd been working hard on the dance all week. He tapped the microphone a couple times until everyone turned toward him expectantly. "Thank you all for coming tonight. Those that went to the game will know that we didn't announce the Homecoming court during half time like we usually do - we had a small delay but we're now ready to present you with your Homecoming King and Queen."
A cheer erupted from the crowd in response. I remembered submitting my vote earlier in the week for King - I couldn't think of anyone I wanted for Queen so I'd just left that vote blank.
"This year's Homecoming King is..." From somewhere a drum roll played - it must have been prerecorded though as there weren't any drums in the room that I could see. "Todd Anderson!" Todd hopped onto the stage with ease and smiled and waved as the crowd cheered.
Tim waited for the roar to die down before he switched to the next envelope. Veronica and I shared a giggle at the craziness of all of this but waited while Tim dramatically pulled the card from the envelope. He already knew the name on the card as he'd been part of tallying the votes but he was making a show of it anyway.
"This year's Queen vote was so close we had to recount several times and every time we seemed to come up with a different result. There were three ladies that very nearly tied in votes.." V and I look at each other and seemed to be silently considering the candidates. "Our Homecoming Queen this year is..." the same recorded drumroll played for a moment. "Genevieve Bartlett!"
On instinct I was already clapping and looking around for the victor before I realized the name he'd said. "Huh?" I mouthed to Veronica. She was grinning and so was Nai'a. They gently shoved me forward toward the stage and then began whispering happily to each other.
A portion of the crowd seemed to have the same response as I did but they recovered a little quicker and the whole room seemed to be booming with applause as I stepped up onto stage - a little less gracefully than Todd.
There was a small flurry of activity as Todd and I received the flowers and crowns. Behind us, Veronica was back in her position at the microphone and Erik had recovered his guitar, posed to resume playing for the remainder of the dance. I couldn't be sure but his eyes looked dark as he looked over at me. He gave me a small smile but it didn't feel genuine.
"Now the King and Queen will share the traditional spotlight dance." Timothy set before leaving the stage. Todd took my hand and winked at me as he led me down to the clearing on the dance floor. The lights dimmed to the point where only the stage and this clearing were illuminated. There were students swaying all around us in the semi-darkness, waiting.
The first chords of a slow song began and Todd put his arms around me delicately. "It's just me Ginny." he whispered. I nodded and put my arms on his shoulders.
The dance seemed to go on forever but the tension soon eased. I was just dancing with my best friend - no big deal. "You make a beautiful Queen." Todd said.
"Thanks...I don't know how it happened..." I stammered, still trying to process it.
"You don't even get how popular you are do you?" he asked with a chuckle.
"I am NOT popular. Not that I care really..." I argued.
"Which is part of the appeal. You're best friends with the captain of the football team, you're dating the bad boy guitarist, you're on the newspaper...but most of all, you're nice to everyone and accessible. Even the cheerleaders like you...as much as they like anyone." Todd said.
I was trying to formulate a response when the music and our dance came to an end.
"We're going to take a short break." Erik announced, snapping my eyes from Todd. Someone else in charge of back up music hopped on stage and had another song playing through the speakers before Erik was even off the stage.
"Thanks for the dance Todd." I said with a smile.
"Care to dance?" Erik asked, his voice was tight and I could tell he was trying to keep a lid on his emotions at the moment.
"Sure. I'd love to." I said with a genuine smile. I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him closer than I'd danced with Todd or Gene tonight and he seemed to relax a bit.
I looked over his shoulder as we danced and saw Todd meeting about as much resistance from Mei-Ling. She kept looking in my direction and I buried my face in Erik's shoulder.
Erik had to go back to his guitar after a couple songs so I was left dance partner-less once again. After a moment of pouting, I headed over to the buffet to get a drink and was soon joined by Todd. "How 'bout we get our picture done?"
"Huh?" I asked, glancing over toward where he and Mei-Ling had been dancing a minute ago.
"She stepped out for a minute." he answered my unasked question. "We need to do a picture - as a King and Queen. Why don't we take this moment to get it done?"
"Oh sure." I said and let him lead me to the photographer. I'm sure he took far more pictures of us than any of the other couples. Aside from being the King and Queen, the night was winding down and most everyone else had already had their picture taken. Todd returned to Mei-Ling's side and I had to stop the photographer from packing up. "I haven't done a picture with my boyfriend." he looked confused and I saw his eyes wander to Todd questioningly. "Oh Todd's just a friend!" I said as Erik came over looking annoyed and dark all over again. "This is my boyfriend!"
"Oh right." The photographer said, pulling his camera back out of the bag. He motioned us toward the backdrop and I smiled but apparently Erik wasn't having it. "This is where you're supposed to smile young man." the photographer joked, hoping to lighten the mood.
"What's going on?" Erik asked, turning his full attention on me.
"Erik, calm down. It's tradition!" I said assuming he was feeling jealous of the dance with Todd and even the pictures.
"And what about your photographer friend over there?" he asked motioning absently back toward the dance floor. The dance photographer's eyes were wide for a moment but I knew he meant Gene.
"It's not like I had soooo many other options Erik!" I raised my voice. "What do you want me to do, stand there and tap my foot all night. I'd rather stay home! I danced with Gene because he was a friend who asked - nothing more!"
"Right! I saw the way he was looking at you all night Gin!" Erik's shouts were turning a few heads by now.
"Did I look at him like that?" I asked quietly. "Have I ever given you reason not to trust me?" I closed my eyes and shook my head. "Forget the picture. This is not a moment I want to remember." I said to the exceptionally patient photographer.
I shoved past Erik and out of the room, several pairs of eyes following me until I was beyond the doors. I'm sure they snapped back to Erik once I was out of sight. There were a few lingering couples in the halls of the school and I took several deep breaths to keep calm as I passed them. I tried a few classroom doors, seeking a dark quiet place to hide for a few minutes while I calmed down but all of them were locked.
The library doors, however, yielded to my touch and swung open. As soon as the near darkness consumed me, I collapsed on the ground and let out a small, choked cry.
I heard the door squeak open a few minutes later and admit someone else but I didn't move from the ground.
"I'm sorry." he said. "I was an ass, I'm sorry." He knelt down beside me and put his hand on my shoulder.
Part of me wanted to be spiteful and pull away from his touch but, as ever, it made me feel better to have him near. He offered me his hand and carefully helped me up.
"I was jealous - unnecessarily - but I lost you for awhile once and don't want that to happen again." Erik said.
"Neither do I." I said quietly. "I love you Erik...but you gotta know I wouldn't do that to you."
"I know that, I just hate to see you in the arms of someone else...even if he's catching your fall or just a friend..." Erik said. "Especially someone I know you..." he trailed off.
"Someone I was with in the past...like James? Or Todd?" I finished for him. Erik nodded, looking toward the floor. "But I'm with you now."