"Seriously V, you're as bad as Erik!" I said with an eye roll.
"Well think about it from his perspective Gin...he sees you chatting it up with your older, smarter boyfriend..." V was sitting in the window sill and had been trying to rationalize Erik's behavior for the last thirty minutes.
"Ex! Ex-boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend who moved to the other side of the country and is here for a FUNERAL. It's not like he came back for me!" I argued.
"But Erik doesn't know that! Or didn't anyway. And then follow that up with you dancing with your pseudo-stalker - seriously what's up with that guy Gene anyway?" Veronica laughed but before I could respond she continued, "And then not five minutes later you're crowned Homecoming Queen with yet another ex...sorta!"
"An ex who has a girlfriend!" I pointed out but V brushed my argument aside.
"It would be too much for any guy I think." she concluded as there was a knock on the door to my bedroom.
My dad stepped in and smiled. "You girls doing okay?"
"Sure Mr. B." Veronica said with a smile. "Thanks again for letting me stay this week, I know..."
"Think nothing of it Veronica. You're welcome here anytime, you should know that." he said. "You two should get to bed though, school in the morning."
"Night Daddy." I said with a smile.
"Night Mr. B!" Veronica added, hopping off the window sill and plopping on the bed next to me.
Dad's office door had barely shut when the doorbell rang. V and I both popped out of bed and made a bee-line for the balcony where we'd be able to see the person. "Is that?"
"James!" My dad said in surprise as he swung the front door open. He spied us from the balcony and shook his head with a chuckle. "Ginny! I think you have company." he called over to me. Veronica followed close at my heels as I headed downstairs.
"Hey James." I said awkwardly. "You remember Veronica?"
"Yes, hey V." he said to her. "Can I talk to you for a moment Ginny?"
"Yeah sure." I said, stepping in front of Veronica. She shot me an 'I told you so.' look and I just rolled my eyes again. I could feel her watching from the kitchen window as I stepped out onto the porch.
We fidgeted awkwardly for a moment before James suggested we sit on the steps. "Remember the funeral I mentioned?"
"Yes, was it someone you were close to?" I asked, trying to ignore the biting cold on my exposed flesh.
"Mhmm, a cousin of mine that was nearly a brother." James said, looking down at his hands. The silence stretched for a few minutes and I was about to ask how he died when James stood up and started walking along the edge of the pool. "He was in the Army, killed during a deployment."
"Oh!" I choked back a gasp. Over the years the news of the ongoing war had become more like background noise lately. "I'm sorry." I stood up and walked up behind him, read to reach out and comfort him but he resumed speaking so I dropped my arm.
"I came to ask you if you'd go with me to the funeral. Sounds odd I know...while I was close to my cousin I was never close to the rest of his family. I just, I'd like a friendly face I guess." James turned back to face me and must have seen my shiver. "Oh! You're freezing out here aren't you?" He whipped off his coat and before I could protest he was putting it over my shoulders.
My body was betraying me as it trembled under his innocent touch and nearness. "Um, th-thanks." I said softly.
"No problem." he said quietly and then stepped back a few paces.
"So...funeral, tomorrow? What time?" I asked, desperately trying to get the conversation back on track.
"Ten AM, at the cemetery at the base. You know where the base is?" he asked, starting to reach for the pockets of the jacket I was now wearing. When he only found air and his own sweater he chuckled.
"Yes, I know where it is." I said, unzipping the jacket slowly and holding it out to him. "I'll be there."
"Thank you Ginny." he said as he took the jacket from me. I saw him out the gate and then sank into a pool chair.
Though I had school in the morning, my dad wrote me a note after I explained the situation to excuse me from most of my morning classes. I still went in for first period to deliver the note and turn in a paper. Erik caught up to me as I was putting my stuff in my locker before leaving. "You're all dressed up." he said with a smile and a stroke of my cheek.
"Yeah, I have a funeral to go to." I said. I knew I should divulge more information but I didn't want to deal with his reaction at this particular moment so I left it at that.
"Oh I'm sorry, I didn't know." he said frowning.
"Just found out yesterday" I said. "Look I gotta go, I'll see you later okay?" I leaned forward and kissed him lightly.
"Sure. Later." he said, watching with a perplexed expression as I trotted toward the stairs.
I arrived at the base a little early in order to get past the gate guards. I'd never actually been on base before but I knew there was security at every entrance point so I had my Driver's License ready as I approached. After a couple questions as to the reason for my visit, they waved me forward. Thankfully the cemetery was very close to the main gate so I didn't have to get lost navigating unfamiliar territory.
As I stepped out of the car, I noticed a lone figure standing by a marker and after a moment of observation I knew it was James.
"Thank you for coming." James said as I approached. He didn't even turn to look at me. "I really appreciate it."
I nodded and then realized he wouldn't see the slight movement. Of course I didn't know what to say at that moment so I just slipped my hand into his and stood quietly by his side for several minutes. Eventually we made our way inside a nearby chapel for the service. James was one of the pallbearers so I was left walking somewhat awkwardly amongst people I didn't know but I simply followed along until we reached the outside.
I hung back as James shook the hands of dozens of people and hugged others. I got the impression that only a handful of those in attendance were family and the rest were friends and coworkers. I was daydreaming about nothing in particular when I felt a familiar presence beside me. "Thank you, again." he said with a weak smile.
"What are friends for?" I replied back. "I'm sorry about...I'm sorry for your loss." I added. James just nodded and stood with his hands in his pockets as he watched people begin to trickle away.
"Do you have to get back right away?" he asked.
"Probably...why? What did you have in mind?" I said.
"Go someplace with me?" he asked offering his arm. After a moment of thought - or lack of thought - I nodded a hooked my arm in his.
"I forgot how beautiful this place is." I said, looking out over the pond. The Koi Pond was tucked far away from any main road so getting there required work that most people were unwilling to exert. I'd only been a handful of times myself but every time was nearly magical.
"This is one place I really miss, of course I didn't come that often but to not even have to opportunity...I told myself the first time I came home, I'd make the effort." James said. "I just didn't think these would be the circumstances."
"How is college life?" I asked, leaning back on the grass - good thing my dress was black.
"It's good I guess. New city, new people, new life..." he said, laying back as well and tucking his arm under his head.
"New girls?" I asked, though I wasn't sure I wanted to hear the answer to that question to be honest.
James chuckled. "There's one...though our schedules are making things complicated so far." he said with shrug.
"I miss you." I said after a long silence.
"I miss you too." he said, his hand found mine on the grass and we lapsed into silence again, just laying there staring up at the trees and listening to the occasional splash from the fish.
I stopped by my house to change after saying goodbye to James, I didn't want to spend the rest of the school day in the funeral dress with grass stains. By the time I got back to school there were only a couple periods left - including Newspaper.
Nai'a pounced as soon as I arrived and started peppering me with questions about where I was but I was granted a reprieve when our editor called me over. "Lance is out sick with the flu or mono or something..." he said. He thrust a few papers in my hands and smiled, "Congratulations, you're our new sports writer this week...or until he gets back."
"Sports? I don't do sports." I protested, my eyes wide as I looked at the football schedule in my hands.
"You do now." he said and then turned away from me. I groaned and looked at Nai'a for help but she was barely hiding her snicker.
I relayed my new found problem to Todd that afternoon and he suggest coming out to practices and getting a new perspective before the game that weekend. Which is how I found myself in my gym clothes on the third day of watching the football players and cheerleaders practice. Tisha had suggested I join them for a routine or two just for fun....yeah it was a bad idea but somehow, here I was.
"Are you sure about this?" Nai'a asked with a frown. Unlike me, she hadn't been here the rest of the week and was just here out of loyalty now.
"To be honest, I'm not sure about anything right now." I said quietly. I plastered on a fake smile as the cheerleaders descended on us.
"I think I'll go observe." Nai'a said, stepping away from me and scrambling for her camera bag. Well at least I'd have pictures for my article.
Without warning, one of the girls turned on the stereo and they all started moving to the music. I knew from watching them that this was a warm up mostly, though even it was in near perfect unison. Except for me, the statue who was looking around with a bewildered expression on my face. Finally, after some prompting I started trying to mirror their movements and found I was a bad imitation of a cheerleader.
This went on for ten to fifteen minutes before the real work began. I'd taken gymnastics and tumbling as a kid but none of it compared to the moves these girls were making. I looked over at Nai'a and was pleased to see her camera clicking away as Terra flipped several times and then landed perfectly on her feet, pumping her fist in the air.
"Hey Gin! Come here! We have an idea!" it was impossible not to be caught up in their good mood and I happily jogged over to them. It wasn't until I felt my feet leaving the ground, several pairs of hands placed firmly on me as I was lifted, that I started to question.
"Guys, I don't think this..." I waved my arms to try and catch my balance as I felt the world disappear.
"Just relax!" they all said and laughed.
Once my feet found purchase on the shoulders and cupped by the hands of others, I was able to find my center and somehow keep myself upright. Nai'a was cheering and trying to take pictures at the same time.
Beneath me, the cheerleaders were beginning to cheer and dance to the music while I stood still as a statue. I was afraid to move lest I fall and land in a heap. But, as I said, it was hard not to be caught up in their mood.
And then everything started to spin as I lost my footing. I felt myself slip and tried to find my balance again with no luck. My foot slipped and I was tumbling backwards. Though there was a spotted there, I knew she wouldn't be able to do much other than cushion the blow.
There was a flurry of activity as I tumbled into Tisha and we crashed to the ground. My leg got tangled in something and was bent at an impossible angle as spasms of pain shot through it and me. "Ow..."
"Gin!" Nai'a was shouting as she ran over to me, her camera bouncing wildly against her chest with every step toward me. "Gin are you okay?"
"Ow" I whimpered, trying to sit up and get a better look at my leg.
"Oh wow!" Nai'a said with a grimace. She whipped her cell phone out and dialed so fast I thought my head would spin - actually it already was but that was probably from the fall. "We need an ambulance at Carson High School..."