Despite his rather ominous suggestion of surgery, Dr. Spencer reassured my dad and I over and over that they wouldn't be rushing me into the operating room right that moment. He wanted to give my knee a chance to heal on it's own first.
It was almost two full months before the cast came off and even then I still wasn't out of the woods. Physical therapy was prescribed along with a 'wait and see' approach. Wanting to avoid the O.R., I was totally on board with this approach and diligently showed up for every therapy session.
While the break to my leg was completely healed, the torn ligament was the real source of concern for the doctors. Thankfully, as I was not an athlete of any sort, surgical repair was less likely to be required – at least that's what they told me.
"You're doing great Ginny," Derek, my physical therapist encouraged. Derek was great – a little over enthusiastic at times – but he seemed to be able to read everyone's limits and pushed them just enough. "One more rep and I think we'll change stations – how does your knee feel?"
"Fine," I grunted. It was a blatant lie – he knew it and I knew it. In truth it was on fire, burning up my leg and felt weak. Derek nodded, a knowing smile on his face. Within a moment the exercise was done and I let the weights clank back into place in relief.
Another twenty minutes of exercise followed – none of them quite so taxing on my leg than the bench had been. I was on my last one when Dad came in, ready to take me home as driving after therapy had proved difficult after the first session. Derek strolled over to greet him and likely to discuss my progress as I finished up and gathered my things. "Ready to go kiddo?"
"Yep," I waved at Derek as I slung my gym bag over my shoulder. "See you next week Derek."
Dad started peppering me with questions about the session as we wound our way through the hospital. We were almost to the door when I stopped in my tracks, causing Dad to start and look at me in alarm. From the look on his face, I'm sure he expected me to crumble over, clutching my knee in pain. "Is that....?" I pointed toward the waiting room where a familiar figure was sitting.
"Tim?" Dad called out to him but he didn't look up. Dad started towards him but I held up my hand to stop him. Dad smiled and nodded, "I'll just go...make sure your next appointment is scheduled..."
"Thanks," I said. I deposited my bag on one of the chairs before sitting down beside my friend. "Timothy?" Still, he didn't look up or acknowledge my presence.
I was sure he was off in his own thoughts, unaware of my existence, and looked around helplessly for a moment. I was on the verge of getting up when he spoke, "It's not supposed to be this difficult."
"What isn't Tim?" I asked, settling back into the hard chair once more.
"Life, high school..." He said cryptically. I could argue with him that life was often a struggle but I didn't think that's what he needed or wanted to hear.
"What's wrong Tim? Why are you here?" I asked instead, looking around for some sign of his uncle.
Tim sighed and leaned back, finally looking over at me. "My dad..."
"Your dad?" I sputtered, instantly recalling the state I'd seen him in not long after the funeral. "Is he okay?"
Tim shrugged, sighing again, "I am not sure 'okay' will ever apply to him again...he had an episode at the home. Something to do with his heart. So they brought him in for tests." I noticed, for the first time, that he was clenching his fists repeatedly. "They've had him for hours now and no one has come to tell me anything!"
I grabbed his hands to stop the clenching and gave them a little squeeze. "Speaking from experience, those things take time is all."
"Right, time..." Tim nodded, halfheartedly, and looked beyond my shoulder – no doubt hoping to see a doctor or nurse finally come for him.
As if on cue, an older nurse came around the corner and scanned the room, "Timothy Kline?" She looked apologetic but otherwise happy, with a grandmotherly smile on her face. "Your father is resting now but if you'd like to come with me, the doctor can answer some of your questions."
"See? Just time," I said, standing along with him.
"Thank you Genevieve," he said, his eyes filled with tears or worry and dread. He pulled me into a hug and held fast for several seconds before releasing me to follow the nurse.
"I thought I had it all figured out," Tim mused, leaning against the stairs. Being late November, the boardwalk and adjoining beach was deserted save the seven of us. It was likely to be the last weekend we'd be able to get away with a beach trip before the cold winter evenings shut the place down to all but the most adventurous of people. Though winters rarely got truly cold around here and it pretty much never snowed – the evenings were actually quite frigid and the water would be near glacial. At least for we California types anyway. Erik tended to laugh at our idea of winter as did anyone who hailed from the north or the east coast.
"Had what figured out?" Nai'a asked, absently running her fingers through his hair. Though neither of them seemed to be aware of this activity, Mei-Ling and I exchanged a look and a private snicker.
"The future. Up until recently my plans were to leave California for an Ivy League school a couple thousand miles from here. But now..." Timothy trailed off, his mind wandering away from our little group.
"And now what?" Veronica, traversing the stone wall for the dozenth time, asked.
"Do you think you could make get down from there?" I asked, grimacing as she teetered a moment before catching her balance and continuing on her path. She stuck her tongue out at me playfully before pivoting on the ball of her foot and going back the way she'd come. "I guess that's a no then," I muttered. Erik squeezed me gently, "So Tim, what's changed?"
"Everything. I could still go but with my father in the home...I guess I don't want to leave so much anymore," Timothy said. "I am not even sure what I want to do anymore – what I want to go to college for."
Silence fell after this while I suspected everyone considered their own future plans. Todd, at least, had his end covered. He'd been recruited by the University of Michigan and offered a partial football scholarship. Given his drunk driving conviction, it was a generous offer which he'd snatched up almost as soon as it was laid out on the table. Mei-Ling, who was already a college student and had been living the life without the rest of us, had applied for a transfer as soon as Todd had told her the news.
"What about you Gin?" Nai'a asked, jarring me from my self-possessed thoughts. "Have you applied anywhere yet?"
"Actually yeah," I said, my cheeks flaming a bit. I'd been keeping this secret from everyone – even Erik – because I didn't want to say anything until I knew. "I applied to the school my mom went to, early decision. I got an acceptance letter just yesterday."
"Oh wow congratulations!" Nai'a said. The others offered up their own praise – some more enthusiastic than others. Erik, to my chagrin, was one of latter, muttering his so softly even I barely heard it.
In the midst of considering all this, the others had begun talking about their own future plans in fervor. Having fallen out of the conversation, I looked up toward V – finding her still perched on the wall but looking a bit pensive.
"You okay V?" I called up to her. She lowered herself into a sitting position and ignored me as she slid off the wall on the shortest side.
"I should cut out guys," she said with a quick wave. She didn't wait around for anyone to say goodbye – running off before anyone could protests.
"What's her deal?" Nai'a asked, clearly annoyed by her abrupt departure.
"The court date between her aunt and her parents is Monday," I said, considering getting up and attempting to run after her to see if she was alright.
"Oh wow," Nai'a looked down at her feet, embarrassed. They may no get along, but Nai'a was not ignorant of the heavy legal battle that was going on around Veronica – or the way it might make a teenager feel.
Shortly after V's departure, the air started to chill as the sun began it's slow descent toward the edge of the horizon. Those of us remaining moved toward the lounge chairs in order to get a better view of the glorious sunset. Tim led Nai'a some feet away from us and point up toward the sky. There was only one visible star – actually a planet – in the sky and I had no doubt he was telling her all about it.
Erik wound his arms around my waist and nuzzled against me but said nothing. It served as a sufficient distraction though as I hadn't noticed Todd and Mei-Ling falling further behind us.
"I think we should follow their example," Erik said, point towards Tim and Nai'a. Together we settled onto the soft sand. Unlike Nai'a, who'd been surprised by Tim's touch on her hand, Erik's didn't startle me in the least.
"You think they're a couple now?" I asked, musing.
"Don't know," Erik said, his voice seemed far away though. When I turned toward him, prepared to question him, his head was turned toward the tiny sliver of sun that remained above the horizon.
After it had finished it's journey and the only light came from the torches and the fire pit some ways off, I spoke again – nervously. "You were awfully quiet earlier – while we were talking about college."
"Mmhmm," was the only replied he offered.
Well that's less than helpful! I ran my fingers through the sand, trying to focus on the grains of sand in order to prevent the next question from popping out of my mouth. Of course, my mind and body would not agree on this, "have you considered what you're going to do after graduation?"
"Not really," Erik said, visibly tensing. I wanted, desperately, to push it and ask the ultimate question – what about us?! But I stayed quiet, chewing silently on my lower lip. This proved more distracting than the sand and nothing more was said until he started to rise and offered me his hand. "I better get you home before your dad comes hunting for you."
Despite being exhausted, sleep and comfort evaded me that night. I paced my room anxiously for awhile and then fell back into the chair feeling dejected. "Not really....not really....."
I knew I was over thinking it all.
I knew that final deadlines were still months away.
I knew that Erik loved me and we'd even talked about it before...vaguely.
I knew all this and yet I felt that old familiar feeling, like he was pulling away for some reason. We'd been through it before – back when his mom had threatened to force him back East. We'd survived it then right? Well aside from the whole break up thing but we were here now and now is what mattered! Right? "Right?!"
"Talking to yourself again?" Todd's voice caused me to yelp and then cover my mouth quickly and look anxiously toward the door, as if expecting my dad at any moment – never mind that he was on the other side of the house and sound asleep. Todd was grinning like a cat when I looked back at him – he was sitting on my window sill and a soft breeze blew in the now opened window. "I'd say you ought to lock your window but then how would I come visit?"
"Through the front door like a normal person?" I said, though I didn't mean it at all. I got up and moved to the desk where my laptop sat open. "What are you doing here anyway?"
Todd shrugged, "I couldn't sleep – same as you I figure."
"Why couldn't you sleep?" I asked, distracted by my email but lending him most of my attention.
"Aren't you worried Gin?" Todd asked, quickly sliding from the window sill to the desk and closing my laptop. I was lucky to get my fingers away from the keys before it clicked shut.
"Worried about WHAT Todd? I need more information," I said, trying not to be annoyed with his invasion into my room.
"Erik. Mei-Ling. They're gonna just follow us wherever we go – how is that fair?" Todd was distressed about the one thing I'd been hoping for actually and it made me frown to see it from the other side. "What if she wanted to stay in California or go to some Ivy League school like Tim...what if she's giving up all that to follow me?"
"Well first off, it was – IS – her choice Todd. She chose to apply for the transfer. Secondly, she loves you and you love her. She came back from CHINA for you Todd – that's how powerful your relationship is! And lastly, I don't know if Erik is following me..."
"Gin, seriously? He's Erik! Of course he will – you could go to college on the moon and he'd find a way to be there." Todd laughed and the tension that had been rolling off him seemed to ease. "Though, I guess you're right about the other two things – I just don't want her to look back five or ten years from now and regret it ya know?"
"Yeah, I get it..." I said, my mind was wandering away from our conversation though as I returned to Erik and the future. Maybe Todd was right. It was Erik after all.