Chapter 17 – Senior Skip Day
I shifted from one foot to the other, lingering in the archway while trying to muster up the gumption to say something. Dad was casually reading the newspaper and, so far, unaware of my uneasy presence. After another foot shift and a momentary withdrawal, I took a deep breath, "hey Dad." I tried to sound casual, as if I hadn't been mentally rehearsing all afternoon, but it came out high and squeaky.
Dad dropped the paper a couple inches and smiled at me, "hey kiddo."
"Da-a-ad." Though I protested the juvenile moniker, it actually served to settle my nerves and brought forth a smile. I sat across from him and spun my class ring nervously for a moment before broaching the topic of my grounding. "So...tomorrow..." I said, hoping to prompt a discussion we'd been dancing around for over a week now. "Have you...ya know, thought about it anymore?"
"Oh hey, this came in the mail for you today," Dad said, evading the subject and pushing a thick envelope across the coffee table toward me.
I rolled my eyes but didn't say anything as I picked up the envelope and examined the upper corner. "This is from Roth..." I said, dumbstruck. I checked the elegant script again, just be sure I'd read it correctly.
"So it would appear," Dad said. His lip curled up into a smile and I could tell he was eager for me to open the envelope."Well....are you going to open it?"
I flipped the envelope over and slid my finger under the flap but stopped before tearing into the paper. With a sly smile, I put the envelope aside and shrugged. "Yeah. Eventually."
"Ginny! This is Roth University, it's one of the more prestigious colleges in the entire country!" Dad tossed his paper aside and made a grab for the envelope but I snatched it up and held it close to my chest.
"Tomorrow?" I asked, tucking it behind my back.
"Fine, you're ungrounded. You can do your Senior Skip Day," he acted like it was a big imposition but he smiled in the end. "But keep your phone on and home by curfew right?"
"Of course," I said. With that resolved, I eagerly pulled the Roth package back out and tore it open. I had to read the opening letter twice, leaving my Dad practically bouncing on the couch in anticipation. "We are pleased to offer you a place in the 2012-2013 freshmen class...."
"Yes!" Dad jumped up and took the letter to read it himself as I leafed through the accompanying paperwork and catalogs. "This is incredible Ginny, I didn't even know you'd applied. What happened to Texas?"
I shrugged, "nothing happened to it. I never thought I'd get into Roth – I only applied because Mr. R recommended it." I sat back, letting the colorful pamphlets and papers scatter.
"What are you thinking kiddo?" he asked, taking the chair beside me. "You know I'll support you where ever you choose right?"
"I know Dad," I said. "Texas was for Mom, ya know? It was her school so I thought...I don't know what I thought exactly but it seemed fitting."
"I understand Ginny, and if that's what you choose then so be it. But your mom would be proud of you no matter where you went to college," he said, putting his arm around my shoulders.
"I know. I just miss her I guess. I have been a lot lately," I said. Before he could respond or feel uncomfortable, I smiled and started scooping up the fallen papers. "I guess I have things to think about huh?"
After three weeks of only seeing Erik at school, waking up a little early was a small sacrifice to make to see him alone.
When I strolled in a little after seven, he was serving a couple of business men their coffee so I took a seat at the counter and waited for him to see me. "Hey you," he said a few minutes later. "Free at last?"
"Free at last," I said with a grin. He glanced behind him briefly before leaning over the counter to give me a quick morning kiss.
"I wish I wasn't stuck here then. If I'd known..." He'd agreed to work the morning shift at the diner today when he thought I'd be banished to school for the day.
"No worries, you get off at eleven right? In time for the movie?" The theater didn't usually begin showing movies until late afternoon but most of the entertainment businesses around town made a point to be open a little early on Senior Skip Day. "I'll meet you there then? And I can tell you my news," I added, recalling the letter from Roth University.
"Sounds great Gin," Erik said. He was then summoned by a customer across the diner and I was left to browse the menu while he worked. By the time I placed my order, the diner had begun to empty of the business crowd and fill with students. Although there were a few underclassmen, the majority were seniors who wouldn't be rushed through breakfast to get to school today.
Though I recognized several people I could have joined, I stayed at the counter to enjoy a few moments of conversation with Erik between customers. As a result, it wasn't until I came back from the restroom that I noticed the unusual number of stares I was receiving. As soon as I caught someone's eye, they turned away and would whisper furiously with the other people at their table.
Erik was busy in the back of the diner somewhere so I paid and ducked out of the diner as quickly as possible. Several pairs of eyes followed me out the diner and more than one person was watching from the window as I left. "Weird."
I spent the rest of the morning reading in the park across from the movie theater, waiting patiently for the first showing of the day while ignoring my intrusive class mates. Though I still hadn't seen Erik approach the theater, the majority of the seniors had filed inside so I made my way across the street to wait for him.
It was only a few minutes of waiting before he jogged up to me. Instead of the happy smile I was expecting, his face was contorted with frustration or sadness. "Gin! Is there something you want to tell me?"
"Huh?" I asked. I recalled the stares and whispers and realized the meaning. A rumor must be flying around and it was centered on me! But what were they saying? I'd intentionally avoided contact with everyone that morning and hadn't seen Todd, Nai'a or Tim to ask them. "Erik what are you talking about?"
"It was all over the diner...everyone was talking. And you said you had news...I wish you would have told me this morning...."
He was babbling incoherently now so I had to grab his shoulders to bring his attention back around to me. "Erik! I don't know what you are talking about!"
"That you're pregnant? I just wish I would have heard it from you instead of from the gossip mill..."
"Pregnant?!" It came out in a strangled shriek that drew the attention of a few people walking by so I covered my mouth quickly and hid my face. "I am NOT pregnant Erik!" I whispered ardently.
"You're not?" I shook my head and he let out a huge sigh of relief. "Oh thank god. I mean I would have been supportive and all but we're..."
"Only eighteen? No kidding. Are they really all saying this?" He wrapped his arm around my shoulders, pulling me in close. From the safety of his embrace, I took a moment to look around at the small clusters of students who were mingling. There weren't many but there was one dreadfully familiar face watching us. When Chrissy saw me looking her way, she smiled and waved before turning to her cronies and laughing hysterically. "I really hate her," I muttered.
By the time we bought our tickets, the original movie had already started – and would be swarming with our gossipy classmates – so we opted for the deserted showing of Dinosaur Island 4. Though it had only been out in theaters for a few weeks, the general assumption was that the story was dated and overdone so no one felt the need to go see it. Honestly, I felt thankful for the reprieve from gawking classmates.
As the opening previews began to roll, Erik turned toward me curiously. "You said you had news...if it wasn't....well you know..." he trailed off, leaving the dreaded 'pregnant' word unspoken.
"Oh! Right..." I frowned, suddenly less eager to share the news about Roth. "Well..."
Erik was smiling but growing restless, "come on Gin, spill it."
"A couple months ago, mostly on a whim, I applied to Roth University...do you know it?"
"Yeah, I've heard of it. Near Chicago right?"
I nodded, though it was nearly an hour away from the city. "Well, I got in. I honestly didn't think I would because it's almost as difficult to get into as the Ivy League schools."
"That's great Gin. But why were you so reluctant to tell me?"
"We haven't really spoken much about college...I mean I know what I want to do, mostly but what about you? You haven't mentioned any acceptance letters or anything," I pointed out, chewing on my lower lip nervously.
"That's because I haven't gotten any," Erik said. It seemed like a sad statement to me but Erik said it matter of factly and continued before I could reply. "Can't be accepted if I don't apply Gin."
"You didn't apply anywhere?"
Erik shook his head, "no. Why would I? College isn't exactly in my cards – even if I had the grades to be accepted somewhere. It's not what I want."
Though I struggled to understand his thought process, I nodded slowly. "Okay, well what do you want?"
"I would have thought that was pretty clear Gin," he grinned and draped his arm around my shoulders and then leaned in for a kiss.
"Erik I'm being serious," I said, holding back a giggle as I pushed him away.
"So am I," he said with a chuckle. "I want you...I'll go where you go. I'll find a job or three to pay for an apartment and maybe I'll find some band who needs a guitar player. Or maybe I won't." Again he shrugged off the future, as if he didn't feel the same pressures as everyone else to plan for it or prepare in anyway.
While I was happy knowing he had every intention of being near me throughout college, I couldn't help but feel uneasy about his plan; or lack of plan. Was I supposed to approve of his reckless belief that he wouldn't be accepted to any college? On the other hand, I was rational enough to know that college was not for everyone but it was a foreign concept to me. As early as middle school, I had begun thinking about what happened after high school – and, for me, that was always college.
Before Erik could push me for some sort of response, assuming he even wanted one, the previews ended and the movie began. I settled back into the chair, leaning against him as the screen filled with biologically engineered dinosaurs.
By the end of the movie, I had effectively pushed the future and the pregnancy gossip out of my mind. The stares and whispers that waited for me on the boardwalk brought me back to reality like a dose of ice cold water. Across the sand, Erik staked out a small area for us and was busy propping up one of the giant umbrellas. I envied him for a moment; no one seemed to stare at him.
While I was lost in such thoughts, Nai'a popped up next to me and grabbed my arm. "Come on," she whispered, pulling me toward the girls' changing room. Once inside, she checked each stall and then rounded on me, her hands crossed over her chest. "Well? I'm guessing no but...."
"It's not true," I said, rolling my eyes. "Another Chrissy gem."
"Nai'a!" I giggled at her outburst. "I don't even know why I'm here...it won't be any fun with a hundred pairs of eyes on me all damn day."
"Eh, they'll get over it soon enough. Gossip goes so quickly around here that I bet someone else is the center of attention by the concert tonight," Nai'a said before ducking into a stall to change.
"Yeah we'll see," I muttered. Without much enthusiasm, I pulled my own curtain closed and changed into my swimsuit.
Erik was tossing a football with Todd when we made it down to the beach. Timothy sat nearby fiddling with his Tablet. "Hey, we're not in school today," Nai'a said, snatching the Tablet from him with a smile.
Meanwhile, Todd and Erik closed in ranks around me, as if to ward off the stares. A couple of football players were nearby and took up the game of catch after a look from Todd. I looked between them and Todd a couple times, "football mafia?"
Todd just winked at me and went to join them, forming a narrow human barrier between our beach and everyone else's beach. Erik wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me against him. "Wanna have some fun?"
"Fun is what got us into this mess," I teased.
"Not that kind of fun....though there's a very secluded cove nearby..." he raised an eyebrow at me and grinned. We laughed together for a minute before he pointed to the waves. "Let's go for a swim."
As Nai'a predicted, the gossip had shifted to another unfortunate person by the time we strolled into central park a few hours later. A couple girls had "accidentally" lost their tops in the water and their shrieks had drawn all eyes. As they scrambled to replace the tops, which they magically were still holding, one was stung by a jellyfish and lost her grip on the bikini top. A few valiant swimmers went after the wayward garment but it disappeared into the depths of the ocean.
Deanna, meanwhile, sobbed in pain but was unwilling to come out of the water until someone brought her a shirt to cover herself. For the rest of the beach day, it was all anyone laughed about. Chrissy herself couldn't manage to turn the tide of gossip back my direction – though she tried.
I was lighthearted as I settled onto the picnic blanket surrounded by friends. A temporary stage had been constructed in the park and every patch of grass was occupied with some group of students or another.
"Please put your hands together for Mindy Williams!" Mindy was barely older than the audience. She'd been propelled into stardom by a third place win on American Idol season....well who knows, I'd lost count by now. She was actually more popular than the winner of the season from what I'd seen so far. The crowd of students, not all seniors now, roared as she hopped onto the stage.
I was still humming the songs, with little bits of the choruses popping out now and then, when I let myself into the house just after ten. If he hadn't cleared his throat, I would have strolled right past my dad. "Oh hey Dad, almost didn't see you," I said with a smile. Dad looked past me uncomfortably for a moment. I followed his line of sight and spotted Ms. Moore. I couldn't even be dampened by her presence. "Hi Jennifer." Then I noticed that neither seemed to share my mood; in fact, they were both frowning and looked uncomfortable.
I looked back and forth between them once more before the light switched on in my head. "Ugh, all over school isn't it?" Ms. Moore nodded silently. I had genuinely hoped that the rumors had been isolated to the seniors but her appearance reminded me of the quick, awkward glances I'd received from the underclassmen during the concert. "It's not true....it's just this girl..." I rubbed my forehead with my hand as my good mood evaporated into thin air. "It's not true Dad, I swear it's not."
"I believe you Ginny," he said. Then he opened his arms and welcomed me into a warm, familiar hug. While I knew this conversation was not over, I embraced the moral support with open arms.