"Merry Christmas Gin," Erik whispered in my ear. He had his hands cupped firmly over my eyes as he led me away from party that was happening inside the Buzz. "A couple days early..."
"Erik, can you uncover my eyes now..." I asked with a giggle. I stumbled over my own two feet once more before he finally moved his hands away. The back porch had been deserted save a small, lonely present sitting on the table nearest us. "What is it?"
Erik picked up the present and held it out toward me, "well traditionally this is where one opens the gift Gin."
I gently shook the box, listening for a clue as a child does. Inside something thunked against the sides of the box but gave me no real hints. "Come on Gin, just open it," Erik said impatiently.
"Spoil sport," I teased. The bow had been expertly tied, suggesting Erik may have had it wrapped at a store instead of attempting it himself. I tugged at the ends of the ribbon, letting it fall away and then turning my attention to the paper. Finally, I pulled the box open and found an old, yet familiar looking book. "Hey...this is from my book shelf..." I pulled the book out and flipped it over twice to confirm that it was mine. "I was looking for this last week actually, isn't that cheating?" I said with a laugh.
Erik was grinning, clearly in on some private joke with himself. "The book isn't the gift Gin..." He took the book from my hands and carefully opened the front cover revealing a necklace that had been delicately placed inside.
My breath caught in my throat. I looked at the cover of the book once more to confirm a theory and then looked up at Erik, tears in my eyes. "How...?"
"It's the one right? The one that reminded you of her?" He plucked the necklace - a locket actually - from the book and held it up against my neck. I was still too stunned to speak but I nodded and then allowed him to clasp it in place.
Months before we'd been walking along the square on a lazy Saturday afternoon when I'd seen the locket in the window of an antique store. I'd stopped to stare at it for several moments and Erik had tried, in vain, to get an explanation out of me but I couldn't speak. The locket looked exactly like the one Mom had worn; the carefully detailed etchings on the silver surface were identical as near as I could recall. "How did you know?" I whispered, my fingers grazing the locket absently.
"Your dad. I took him to the shop and asked him about it - he had just about the same reaction you did. Later on he showed me a picture of her wearing it and I realized..."
"Thank you Erik," I said quietly, snuggling against him.
The day after Christmas, I tucked the locket into my luggage carefully and pulled the final zipper closed. I stifled a yawn and glanced at the clock - 5AM. Who schedules a 5AM departure for a bunch of high school seniors? Oh right, MY dad - who wakes up at this time even on his days off and happened to be one of the chaperones for the trip.
"Ginny, let's move! Gotta get to the school to meet the rest of your class!" I loved my dad, I really did but at 5AM he's lucky I didn't throw my overstuffed suitcase at him. I might have...if I had the energy to lift it.
Though it was called the "Senior Class Trip" only about a quarter of the seniors had signed up and paid for the ski trip. Even so, corralling and moving such a gaggle of sleepy teenagers through the airport was an act of madness. Without Erik's comfortable shoulder to lean on, I turned to Todd and tried to resist the pull of sleep while we waited for our flight.
By the time the flight ended, most of us had either dozed for a couple hours or caught a second wind when we saw the snowy slopes waiting for us. I was on strict orders from my doctors and my dad to restrict my skiing to the bunny slopes but no one else was so confined.
One trip down the meagerest slope with a bunch of five year olds was enough to send me, shamefully, back to the lodge. As everyone else was out enjoying the snow, the place was pretty well deserted and I was able to grab a paper and a cozy spot by the fire.
The first paper I'd picked up turned out to be a local community paper and pretty uninteresting to me. I folded it back up and returned it to the table by the front desk. Thankfully they had a half dozen other major papers from around the country so I picked up a copy of the New York Times and cup of cocoa before returning to the fire.
The first several pages were filled with war, politics and crime from around the world. "This is why I don't read the news..." I muttered to myself. It wasn't actually true though. As much as I'd like to remain blissfully ignorant of the world outside my little bubble, it was impossible to avoid world news anymore.
"I always read the comics first," I looked up to find a stranger hovering over me with a pleasing smile on his face. He had the Lodge emblem on one sleeve and a medical cross on the other telling me he was a staff medic. "Sorry to interrupt, I just wanted to make sure you were alright. Not many people come to a ski lodge to read," he teased.
"Oh! Yeah I'm fine. I had an accident a couple months ago and tore something so doctor's orders..." I tapped my bad knee and shrugged, as if it didn't bother me to be missing out. It did.
He nodded, clearly understanding everything with the minimal information I'd offered. "Well if you need anything or your knee starts bothering you - I'm Jake, one of the medics here." I nodded and turned to watch him walk away.
Turning back to the paper, I imagined myself feigning injury just for another chance to see Jake the hottie medic and then scolded myself for the same thought.
I continued to skim the news until finally abandoning the first two sections of the paper all together. I would have ditched the whole paper if I hadn't seen a familiar face looking back at me from the front page of the society section. "James..." I looked at the picture to reassure myself and felt my stomach flop. He was smiling broadly and had his arm wrapped around a gorgeous, fair haired woman.
From the details offered up in the article, she was twenty and the heiress to a huge fortune. Her father was a politician in New York and her mother volunteered for every charity under the sun it seemed. And she went to Yale...she was the one James had been talking about.
And now they were engaged.
I tossed the paper aside and slumped back into the couch. I was still there, sulking, when Todd wondered in dusting flakes of snow from his jacket and laughing. "Come on Ginny...come on the slopes with me...."
"You know I can't," I said, not even looking at him.
"You can do the small slopes...I'll come with you! Or we can go out and join the massive snowball fight that is being mounted out there. The football team and the cheerleaders have formed one team against the basketball team and the girl's volleyball team!" Todd didn't seem to notice my inattention at first, as he kept looking toward the windows to watch the snowballs fly.
"Thanks but...I'll just stay here. My knee is a little sore..." I lied.
This he picked up on. He nudged my feet out of the way and plopped down beside me. "Okay - spill. What is the deal? I know it's not just your knee."
I considered not saying anything at all but it had been bursting to get out for an hour now and I wanted to tell someone, "James is engaged." I picked up the paper and handed it to him. "I just saw him two months ago and now he's engaged."
"Ah...and you're jealous?" Todd asked, skimming the article and then tossing the paper back onto the coffee table. "Ginny...."
"I'm not jealous..." I said the words but even I couldn't be sure of the veracity of them. "Well not exactly. But it stings a bit I guess."
"Yeah but you have Erik - you CHOSE Erik remember?"
"I know...man I'm horrible aren't I?" I grabbed the couch pillow and covered my face and let out a loud groan. "I....ya knowI think I was mostly surprised..."
"Right, of course you were!" Todd hopped up and grabbed my hand. "Now come on! We're out numbered and I promised I'd recruit more troops!" I laughed and allowed him to drag me outside to the war zone.
After an hour in the trenches and covered in snow, I trudged into the lodge - no doubt leaving small puddles as I made my way upstairs to the room I was sharing with Nai'a. My key had been sticky in the lock since we'd arrived and this time it took me three attempts to get the door open.
For weeks now they'd been hovering around each other like the moon orbits the Earth - always keeping an awkward but firm boundary none of us could understand. Really, what was stopping them from just making a go of it really?
Apparently nothing now.
"Um..." I held up a hand and then dropped it to my side. If they weren't blocking the way to the bathroom I wouldn't disturb them but I was beginning to shiver and was in desperate need of a hot shower. "Guys...." I looked back at the door and tried to think of where else I might warm up. I was two seconds away from invading my dad's room when they noticed me.
"Oh hey Ginny," Nai'a said with a giggle. "Guess you caught us..."
Tim's cheeks flared red but he was grinning and happier than I'd seen him in months. "Yeah...look, I don't mean to interrupt but I just got out of the snowball fight of the century and would like to warm up a bit..." I pointed awkwardly toward the bathroom.
"Right! Say no more! We'll let you do your thing," Nai'a grabbed Tim's hand and they hurried from the room. "Maybe we'll hit the slopes one more time before nightfall."
I'm not sure they ever made it back to the slopes during the trip actually. Every time I turned around there they were -making out all over the lodge.
"Seriously Ginny, I walked in and they were all over each other! I tried to tune it out but without Mei-Ling here, it's just awkward!" Todd had had the same experience I'd had as he was sharing a room with Tim this week and came knocking when he could no longer ignore them.
"Well it's new and young...Erik and I were like that..."
"Were?" Todd said with a grin. "Y'all are still like that most of the time!"
"Oh shut up!" I laughed and threw a pillow at him, which he easily dodged. "Where is Mei-Ling anyway? I thought she was coming up for this?"
"She is, she should be on her way now actually," Todd said, glancing at his watch. "Her family was in from China this week and their flight out this morning was delayed a few hours. She said she'd head out as soon as they took off..."
"Is she driving?"
Todd nodded, "it'll take her a bit longer than us since we flew but she said she should be in late tonight or early tomorrow." He glanced at the clock and sighed. "I better go back to my room and separate the pair. If your dad or Ms. Moore catches them this late..."
I giggled, recalling my dad's lecture to everyone about the curfew and room checks that would be instituted if they had reason to suspect anything. "I'll go distract Dad for a few," I offered.
Dad had given me an extra key to his room when we'd checked in, just in case I needed something, but I knocked first. When I didn't get a response I fished the key out of my pocket to let myself in.
I really, really should have waited.
"Oh god!" I shouted involuntarily. "I need to stop walking into rooms," I muttered under my breath.
I'm sure it was my shout that snapped them out of it and alerted them to my presence. "Oh Ginny!" Ms. Moore was good enough to blush and pull away from my Dad.
"I was just....uh..." I trailed off, scratching my head in confusion. Even if I had a legitimate reason for being there, I don't think I would have been able to recall it after seeing Dad making out with one of my (former) teachers.
"I think I'd best go Jack," she said, quietly.
"Yeah maybe you should!" I said, the snark slipping out before I could stop it. I looked away from them, unwilling to make eye contact with either of them as Ms. Moore extracted herself from my dad's arms and retrieved her shoes.
The door opened and closed behind me and yet I still didn't look over toward my dad. I just...ugh. Why was he making out with her? "Ginny..." his voice was low and full of warning. It was the deep, parental voice he used when he was about to lecture me.
"I thought you two had stopped..." My voice caught on the word dating, I didn't want to think of my dad dating anyone really but especially not my teacher. "Just stopped."
"We had, the timing wasn't right before."
"And it is now? She's my TEACHER!" The shrillness in my voice made me cringe but it couldn't be undone now.
"She WAS your teacher, she hasn't been your teacher in well over a year Ginny," he reminded me. "And I think you were rather rude to her just now."
"I still have to be in the same school with her!" I said quickly. "I have to see her in the hallways and now every time I do I'll see this..." I shuddered.
I turned around, tuning out the impending lecture and raised a hand to stop him as I walked toward the door. "Nope, sorry, it's all good. Just gonna go wash my eyes out with bleach or something...."
I knew I was being rude and I knew I should stop but I really just wanted to get away from him right then. "Ginny...", the deep parental voice was back.
"Really Dad, it's cool. I just came to say good night...love ya..."
Whether he just didn't want to get into it right now or was letting it drop, he didn't try to stop me from leaving. "Night," he said as the door closed behind me. I paused outside his room to shudder again, recalling the image of him and Ms. Moore.
Sleep didn't come to me as easily as I would have liked that night. Nai'a was giggling and talking in her sleep in the bed next to me and the image of my dad and Ms. Moore invaded my mind at every turn. "Ugh!" I pressed the pillow over my face, trying, in vein, to push it away.
Finally I gave in and dropped my feet to the ground as I sat up. I felt around in the dark for my slippers and grabbed the room key on the way out. The whole of the lodge was darkened aside from the fires that were burned almost down to embers now.
I'd had a mind to drown my thoughts in ice cream but when I got to the kitchen I found the fridge was rigged with some sort of lock! "Bastards," I said. I rummaged around in the cabinets until I found a tin of coffee and a mug.
The process of making coffee seems to take four times as long when you so desperately want it. At first I listened to the gurgles of the machine until the first precious drops of liquid started flowing from the core and into the mug.
"Ya know, I'm no expert but I think caffeinated drinks - like coffee - tend to wake one up," Todd was standing in the doorway, looking rather cocky.
I shrugged and took the mug before settling onto the bar. It was still hot so I used it mostly as a hand warmer and then glanced over at Todd, "what's up with you?"
"Couldn't sleep, anxious about Mei-Ling driving I guess," he said with a shrug. He didn't look particularly anxious to me but what did I know? "And you? What's got you up?"
I sipped the coffee slowly, letting the beverage soak into my core and rejuvenate my tired mind. It was obvious - to me at least, that sleep was not going to come tonight so I may as well wake myself up. After several sips, I set the mug down and retold the story of what had happened in my dad's room.
"He was....with Ms. Moore...really!?" Todd's speech was halted and awkward as he processed the story. "That's just...wow..."
"I know right?!" I said as I slid off the bartop. "And he didn't seem to get why this might bother me just a little bit!"
"Well parents and teens rarely understand each other," Todd said with a laugh. Within a few minutes, he had me laughing about the whole event - easing the knots in my gut in the process. Neither of us heard him coming.
When he cleared his throat, we both spun around in surprise and then dissolved into giggles and laughter all over again. "Uh, sorry Dad..." I said lamely. "I couldn't sleep..."
Dad ignored me, "Todd..." I realized then that he wasn't down here because we were breaking some curfew.
"Dad? What's going on?" I asked, taking Todd's hand instinctively.
"Todd...." he took hold of Todd's arms, the sadness in his eyes betrayed him. "It's about Mei-Ling..."
"What? What about her?" Todd, who didn't have the experience to read my dad like I did, was caught off guard.
"There was an accident...."
Todd broke free from my dad's grip and was running before either of us could stop him. "Todd!" I shouted after him. When I realized he wasn't stopping for shoes or a jacket, I followed him out onto the porch, "Todd!!"