Chapter 14 - The Secret Admirer
As I rounded the corner, I spied Erik at his locker and groaned. Okay, so not the typical response when seeing your boyfriend but things had been awkward between us lately. Ever since the night I’d gone to Gran’s and forgotten about our plans he’d been nursing a grudge. Between that and the loom of the future, things had just been weird. Sometimes it seemed as if we were both playing parts in a scene.
I looked longingly toward the library doors; I could duck in and hide in the stacks for a few minutes. I was still weighing my options, however, when he closed the locker and turned toward me. He smiled on seeing me and started forward so I plastered a predominantly fake smile on my face. The familiar sick feeling bubbled inside me at the whole farce.
“Hey, haven’t seen you all day,” Erik said, pulling me into an embrace.
‘That’s because I’ve been avoiding you,’ I thought to myself. “I know, busy day,” I fibbed.
As he leaned in for a kiss, I did my best to reciprocate but he must have sensed something because he pulled back and looked at me curiously. “You okay?”
“Uh-huh,” I said, nodding lamely. I could see the concern in his eyes and wondered, not for the first time, if it was me. Maybe I had manufactured the whole problem and Erik was the same as ever, a little distant sure but otherwise in love with me. “Sorry, just…”
“Busy.” It wasn’t a question. I’d been using the same excuse for weeks and he’d picked up on my cues. “Well, then…”
Before he could finish, I grabbed his hand and squeezed it, “so, let’s make time for each other? This weekend maybe…” I prompted. “We could go see that movie and then go down to the beach…”
“I’m busy,” Erik said, dropping my hand as if it burned him. He stalked away, I watched until he turned the corner and disappeared into a classroom and then fell against the wall.
I pulled my phone from my pocket and glanced both ways to check for teachers before punching in V’s number. Her new school day ended nearly an hour before ours so she should be out for the afternoon by now. “Hey Gin, shouldn’t you be in class?” she said, laughing at my expense.
“Shouldn’t you be napping?” I teased. As much as I envied her earlier release, it came at a price. Her school also started an hour earlier as well. “I’m between classes…and I have my newspaper pass to buy a couple minutes.”
“Okay, so what’s up? Wait, let me guess, boy drama? Erik PMSing again?” Veronica giggled.
“Things have been strained lately. We start back on the right track and then something happens and it’s all tension and irritating again. It’s Valentine’s Day on Friday and he hasn’t made one mention…”
“Gin, he’s a guy, maybe he forgot. Or maybe he’s just trying to make it extra special,” Veronica suggested.
I paused to consider this and then shook my head, “no, I’m pretty sure he knows but is annoyed with me. Not that I haven’t given him some reason – I’ve been pretty annoyed with him lately.”
“Well then show him you’re not anymore. Instead of avoiding him, spend every day seeking him out….” Her advice was cut off by the sound of the final bell. One or two tardy students made mad dashes for classrooms and I cursed. “Is that the bell? Go to class!” She hung up before I could argue.
“Genevieve,” Ms. Moore looked at the phone and shook her head, “you know cell phone use isn’t allowed between classes.” She held out her hand expectantly.
“You can’t be serious,” I groaned. “There’s only one more period…” She didn’t relent and I finally dropped the cell phone into her outstretched hand.
“Thank you, you can retrieve it after school, now get to class before I cite you for being tardy as well.”
I rolled my eyes as soon as she turned away and then jogged down the hall to the newspaper room. Thankfully Mr. R was used to us working independently. He didn’t look up as I came into the room, though Nai’a appeared relieved that I’d finally shown up. “Where were you?” she whispered as I slid into the seat next to her.
“Got caught on the phone by Ms. Moore,” I muttered. “I can’t believe that woman is going to be my step-mother…” Nai’a’s eyes grew wide and I blanched when I realized I’d just shared a secret that wasn’t mine to share. “You didn’t hear that…pretend like you didn’t hear that. He hasn’t actually proposed, yet.”
Nai’a nodded and mimed zipping her lips closed with a flourish. I sunk back into my chair, rubbing my forehead as the computer booted up and went through start up programs one by one. Beside me, Nai’a was already rambling about her plans with Timothy for the weekend but I tuned her out. “Oh! What’s that?!” Nai’a’s exclamation brought my attention back around and I looked toward her expecting to find her pointing toward the window.
Instead, I found she was pointing at my own computer screen where an IM had popped up. There was a grey faced avatar attached to the message, indicating an anonymous user. “Roses are red, Violets are blue. Would you be my Valentine if I asked you?” It was signed “Your Secret Admirer”
“Aww, that’s sweet!” Nai’a gushed, reading over my shoulder. “Are you and Erik doing something special for Friday then?”
I shook my head in disbelief, “Um, he said he was busy…”
“Maybe he’s trying to make it a surprise – based on this,” she pointed to the screen, “it seems like he’s been thinking about it for a little while at least. Come on, we have real work to do now.”
Without replying to the IM, I shut the box down and following Nai’a out of the room, draping my pass around my neck.
For the rest of the week, Erik seemed as distant and angry as he had on Monday and yet the notes kept coming. As he seemed content with the charade, I didn’t mention the notes and gifts of adoration even as he spoke of working at the bar on Friday night.
On Tuesday I found a little potted plant inside my locker. A paper heart was had been placed among the leaves to profess his love and ask, again, to be my Valentine. Then on Wednesday my car had been filled with red and pink balloons. Admittedly this was more annoying than romantic but Nai’a assured me it was the thought that counts. Finally, on Thursday a dozen roses were delivered to my first period class. My calculus teacher sighed in frustration as he allowed the office aide to place the flowers on my desk and then glared at her as she scurried from the room. “If you’re done disturbing my class Ms. Bartlett…” he said, shooting me a look of disdain.
I wanted to argue but that was a fool’s errand. It’s not as if I had the flowers delivered to myself! I made a note to tell Erik HE could explain it to Mr. Jordan. While Mr. Jordan’s back was turned, I pulled the note from the bouquet and slipped it from the envelope. “If you agree to be my Valentine, please meet me at the Bistro at eight tomorrow evening. Your Secret Admirer.” My heart fluttered a bit and I couldn’t hide the dreamy smile on my face.
“Nope,” I tossed the dress aside and pulled out a blouse. After surveying for a moment, it joined the dress on the bed. The pile had grown by the time my dad knocked on the door. “Come in!”
“Ginny, Jennifer and I are…” he looked from me to the pile and back again. “Are you okay?”
“Yep!” I said cheerfully. Despite not being able to find an appropriate outfit, the prospect of a sweet, romantic evening with my boyfriend had buoyed my spirits considerably. Even my dad’s impending date with my teacher couldn’t dampen my mood. “You were saying? You and Ms. M – Jennifer,” I corrected. The day before, Ms. Moore and Dad had both insisted I call her Jennifer – outside of school anyway but it was a hard habit to break.
“Yes, we’re heading out for the evening. You do realize it’s nearly eight right?” He glanced at the pile of rejected outfits again and frowned. “Didn’t you say you were meeting Erik at eight?”
“Is it?! Oh no! Thanks Dad! Have fun!” I was running around the room now, trying to do a dozen things at once to get ready. I didn’t hear him say goodbye or see him leave but by the time I stop to catch my breath, Dad was gone.
At 8:10, I was halfway through my makeup and my phone rang. “Crap!” I hopped over the pile of clothes and grabbed the phone from the end table, prepared to be questioned by Erik. “I know, I know! I’m late! I’ll be there in like…ten minutes max…”
“No, don’t come!” Nai’a whispered into the phone. “It’s not Erik…”
“Nai’a? What are you talking about? Where are you?” I asked, still trying to put on lipstick and talk at the same time.
“Your secret admirer is not Erik!” she hissed, still keeping her voice low for some reason. “Tim and I are here, at the Bistro and it’s Gene.”
“Gene? Huh? You’re not making sense Nai’a. Where’s Erik?”
“That’s what I’m saying! He’s not here! Gene is! And I’ve seen him checking his watch and he has a rose,” as she spoke, I imagined her craning her head to see what Gene was doing at another table. “Oh you explain it to her!” There was a shuffling sound before Timothy got on the phone. “Genevieve, Gene is the only person here alone. All the tables are occupied. And Erik is not here. Logic suggests that Gene is, in fact, your secret admirer,” Timothy sounded perfectly calm and logical about it while my heart was hammering.
“Right,” I muttered. He was right, he had to be. But then where was Erik? “Tell Nai’a I said thanks…gotta go.” I tossed the cell phone into my purse and grabbed my keys from my desk.
Twenty minutes later, I pulled into the dirt parking lot the surrounded Bellow’s Bar and Grill. While it tended to attract the bad sort of patrons, the building had always been kept up by the owner to look as respectable as a small town bar could. I parked next to Erik’s motorcycle and climbed out of the car. As a couple people stumbled from the doors, I regretted not changing out of the dress. “Yeah I won’t stick out at all,” I muttered, double checking the car locks before heading inside.
Sam Bellows was behind the bar, washing a glass. She looked up and waved as I came in. I’d first met Sam almost a year earlier when Erik first started working for her and she’d always been an easy going, relaxed boss. “You lookin’ for your man?”
“I was, yeah. Is he here?” I asked.
Sam’s smile slipped, but after a moment she pointed to the corner where Erik was bent over a table. He wasn’t alone. Mr. Langston was passed out and drooling on the table, a beer bottle teetered in his limp hand. “Come on Dad,” I heard Erik say, as he hoisted his father’s arm over his shoulder.
I walked over and steadied him, then supported the other arm. I wasn’t carrying much of the weight but I helped maneuver the body outside and then stood back as Erik dropped him into the bed of his truck. He was still unconscious so he probably wouldn’t be going anywhere any time soon. Erik slammed the door and hung his head, keeping his back to me while I gnawed on my fingernails anxiously. “Hey Gin,” he said finally. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s Valentine’s Day; I wanted to spend it with you.”
“I have to work,” he said sulkily.
“I know, I’ll just hang out then. I want to be with you is all.”
Erik shrugged. With one more glance toward his father, he headed back toward the bar. Sam was waiting by the door and shook her head. “You two go on, it’s pretty slow here.”
“What about him?” Erik asked, inclining his head toward the truck.
“He’ll be fine; he can sleep it off while you two have a proper date. Ain’t right to spend this night at a bar. Go on now before I change my mind.” Before Erik could argue, Sam turned and disappeared into the bar.
“I’m not sure what we could do – I’m sure everything is pretty booked at this point,” Erik said.
I slipped my hand into his and pulled him closer. “Why don’t we start with a ride? You have an extra helmet?” I asked with a grin.
Erik surveyed my ensemble for the first time and smirked, “you want to go riding in that?”
I chuckled, “I’m game if you are.” A few minutes later I was climbing onto the back of his motorcycle, struggling to maintain a margin of decency in doing so. Once settled, I wrapped my arms around his waist as he revved the bike.
We drove out beyond the edge of town before stopping at the Lookout. I was pleasantly surprised to find it deserted. The Lookout was a drive in movie theater once upon a time but megaplexes and the economy had run the owners out of business before I was born. Now the lot was overgrown in patches and the structures threatened to topple over with every strong storm. On most weekends, a handful of teens or young couples would find their way up there to hang out, party or make out.
I was once again regretting my clothing choice as I sat, trembling, near the edge of the hill. Erik wrapped his arms around me. “This is nice,” I said, snuggling against him to stave off the chill in the air.
“It is,” he agreed. “I think we’ve been missing each other a lot lately.”
“We see each other every day,” I teased.
“True. But I mean spending real time together – so much has been going on with everyone else, you’ve been busy,” though he didn’t mean for it to hurt, my own words swung back at me stung a bit.
I chewed on my lower lip, trying to come up with the right words. “I haven’t been so busy really.”
“Sure you have. First with Veronica and then Todd, there’s only so many ways you can be split Gin.”
“I was just being a friend, they were in bad spots and needed support – is that bad?” Now I was getting defensive. Was he seriously questioning my priorities for the last few months?
“No, of course not. You’re right,” he said quickly.
I reigned in my ire, defensiveness was not good when things were already on a precipice. “Besides, it could be worse – I could be one of those clingy, needy girlfriends,” I joked half-heartedly.
“I wouldn’t mind being needed now and then,” Erik said under his breath.
I twisted around to face him directly. “I do need you,” I said earnestly. “It may not be obvious sometimes or in the typical, hold-my-door-open, beat-up-the-mean-girls sort of way but I DO need you.”
Instead of responding, Erik stroked my hair and then moved in for a kiss. I laid back into the grass, pulling him down with me. Erik’s lips were soon trailing down my neck as his hands moved lower as well.
We paused long enough to shuck our shoes and then Erik's hands were trailing up my back. "Are you...." I trailed off and then grinned at him. There was no one around for miles. I pulled off his shirt and tossed it off into the brambles. We'd probably get bit to hell by bugs (or worse) trying to find it again but I didn't care at that moment.
And neither did Erik.
By the time the flashing red and blue lights came into view, my hair was a complete mess and my shirt was completely missing. Erik’s shirt was gone as well and he had bits of grass in his hair. Oddly, it wasn’t the lights that caught our attention. It was the single, loud burst of the siren that made us strain to look toward the slightly bemused police officer. “Out a little late tonight eh? Well come on then…”
“Crap,” I muttered. Erik tried not to laugh as he stood, offering me his hand. I kept my back to the officer as I searched for my shirt and ran my hand through my hair.