Grant Fingleson. He was the first boy I ever developed a crush on and if I remember right I was in kindergarten and he was in second grade. His eyes held the prettiest green possible, freckles dusted on his face, and a funny gap between his two front teeth. Nevertheless, I found myself wanting to go on the swings with him every recess and running to catch up to him on the way home. Lucky for me, we didn't live too far from each other at the time. Whenever we'd walk home together Mom would be standing at the front door waiting for me and I would tell Grant goodbye as I trotted on over to my front step. This cycle of crushing on him and walking together continued well into seventh grade and that was when my mother finally asked about him.
"So this Grant, does your father know about him?"
I looked up from my bowl of cereal that morning and blinked. Of course he didn't know about him. It was a well-kept secret of mine that I refused to share with anyone, I she even knew what I was feeling.
"Is there something he should know about him?" I countered with a mouth full of Fruit Loops.
"Well I just figured that since you call your father more than you do me sometimes you might be telling him things that I don't know."
"If you're saying I might like Grant more than a friend than you're crazy."
"Are you sure?"
" . . . is he already your boyfriend?"
I had to stop myself from possibly launching Fruit Loop projectiles from my nose as I tried not to laugh. It was a forced laugh of course and to this day I'm still unsure as to whether my face was red from laughing or from embarrassment of being caught.
"Mom, you know there's only one guy I will ever love."
She rose her brow at me and I'm more than sure that the dedicated Christian in her half-expected me to say "Jesus." I stood up from the table and walked over to the sink with my bowl in hand. I felt my mother's eyes following me with every motion and I could hear my brothers coming down the stairs singing their version of "Sweet Caroline" that included more da-da-da's than lyrics.
"Of course it's Dad, Mom," I said, glancing over at her presence before my brothers walked into the kitchen. I remember her eyes widening slightly, then darting away from me in almost a shame-like matter; maybe even a bit of irritation. She said nothing to me as she briskly exited the kitchen, sliding past my brothers as they entered.
—I opened my eyes and leaned over with my hands on my knees. I exhaled heavily and stared at the rust colored sand beneath my feet. I felt the sweat drip off my forehead and watched it fall in drops onto the track. I had been doing this a lot lately, closing my eyes and falling into deep thought. Unfortunately, it was a habit I had yet to control and that aspect of it I feared. A single blink could turn into a montage of memories that made me lose all sense of time and bearings. Each day a part of my life flashed before my eyes as if I were dying painlessly slow.
The past couple of days consisted of sitting inside my white-walled dorm staring outside of the window watching gray clouds roll through the sky. Mornings were dreary and afternoons were hot, I refused to greet the sun with my face and my pale skin. I wandered the halls of the academy barefoot in shorts and wrinkled T-shirts I had kept in boxes in my dad's office thinking about nothing, everything, and anything in between. Getting out from behind the large wooden doors of the school had been a forced effort between myself and the custodians who hated seeing my dusty footprints on the polished white tile.
"You alright there kiddo?"
Such familiar words struck a violent chord in me that I looked to my left so fast I could almost hear bones crack. Half of my heart expected someone who I knew wouldn't be there. My eyes fell onto the face of Patrick Richardson, an uncle on my mother's side who also worked at the academy. I hadn't seen him since the event on the rooftop last year and to be frank, I barely saw him around the academy either which brought me to assume he worked in the office, or taught some obscure class I would probably never have.
"Yeah, I'm fine."
I stood up straight, wiping the sweat from my brow. He stood there in khakis and a light green shirt. His shoes were in stark contrast against the rust sand he stood on. He kept staring at me as if he were trying to delve into the crevices of my mind to see if I was emotionally and mentally stable. I wasn't, but I put up a good front.
"Claire called me yesterday," he broke his gaze, "she was frantic."
"Mom tends to do that."
"It's understandable though. She's worried for you."
I looked up at him confused. I'm sure he knew the question I was about to ask, so I didn't bother asking it. Instead he just let out a sigh and put his hands into his pockets.
"She doesn't know."
"What do you mean?"
"She doesn't know about your dad—she doesn't know anything. She was calling because you hadn't contacted her in the past couple of weeks and she was worried."
"So you're telling me," I looked at him square in the eye, "she doesn't know about the mission, she doesn't know about what happened, she doesn't know about dad?"
"Your mom doesn't know a thing and . . . please keep it that way. When the time comes I'll handle it myself."
I didn't bother arguing with him, I had no reason to. Whatever his motives were had nothing to do with my opinion, even though she may be my mother and I felt that I should tell her, I didn't want anything to do with his plan to keep her in the dark. My attention was focused back on to the track prepared to start another series of laps. I didn't want to deal with any other problems than my own. There was no time to even find a resolution for myself, so who am I to try and fix the problems of others.
"Karin, you should know that a lot of changes are going to happen this year."
"Some things are going to be out of administration's control."
"Things usually run like that."
"I just want to let you know," he said, irritated with my lack of attention, "there will also be things out of your control as well so be prepared-"
"-My father is gone and I don't know if he's missing or if he's dead. Don't talk to me about changes out of my control. Don't speak to me like a little girl."
That was the first time I even mentioned the possibility of my own father being dead. Up until that point I refused to believe that was even an option to think about. And then there I was, saying it with even mock-certainty. I couldn't even recognize my voice. It sounded older, distant, cold. It sounded hurt, angry, and torn. It wasn't my voice that was speaking. It wasn't the voice I was so used to my whole life.
"Don't talk to me about change," my voice was softer, sounding broken, "don't talk to me about change."
He didn't hug me, he didn't say anything to console me, he just stood there staring at the track underneath his feet. We never had an emotionally close family relationship so I didn't expect anything out of him. A part of me did and hoped for at least a few sincere words or anything in parallel, but there was nothing. Not even a sigh of remorse.
"Everyone will be returning tonight and tomorrow. Classes will be delayed."
"Like I said," he turned away, but looked back at me, "some changes are going to be made Karin. Staff and administration are going to have a meeting the rest of the day today. Things are going to be different, I don't' know how, but they just are. I originally came here to tell you that since all teachers are required to show up to the meeting, we're leaving you and your group of friends—when they arrive of course—to handle the facilitation of dorms."
I looked over at him with disbelief. He ignored it and continued to walk away, leaving me alone once again. Incoming students and returning students would be arriving over the span of two days, but it was always the first day that was the most hectic. I doubted my ability to even interact with other people anymore. I hadn't been functioning like the regular Karin Micheals would before the first day of school. I wasn't excited to see people. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I didn't feel as though I was ready for any of it. I didn't want to admit that I still needed time to heal, but it was difficult feeling like I was dealing with this alone.
Then again, up until now I had refused to let anyone in. And the only one who managed to squeeze their way in was Russell. Although I had forced myself to come to terms that he and I would never see each other again, I found him a difficult character to forget. In fact, his blazer was still in my dorm, draped over the desk chair. He had seen me at my worst, a part very few ever managed to see. I was thankful that he was there, even though a complete stranger, I was still thankful.
"But we're never going to meet again," I said aloud, "which is probably the best for the both of us."
- x . x . x -
The sun set just as soon as it had come, though I barely noticed through the closed curtains of my dorm window. Lamp on, I sat on my bed in jeans and ruffled white tank nursing a cup of hot lemon tea laced with honey. I learned to kick my slushie and coffee habit after a series of headaches and upset stomachs. I swapped the artificially flavored treat for a more natural alternative that my mother suggested (or rather shoved into my hands). It wasn't the greatest tasting drink ever, but I grew used to it and the energy it gave me lasted much longer.
I stared at the map of the school I had snagged from the main office. Regardless of the changes Uncle Pat had warned me about, there were some major changes that had already happened. Behind the field and track there was a newly built medical building containing some of the best medical equipment and technology in the nation. Because of this building, the wing that once held the infirmary were transformed into more dorm rooms. Across from the medical building was also a new technology building and from this I assumed that last year's "cave laboratory" was laid to rest. Finally, I noticed that there was also a new building separate from the school itself, strictly made for housing.
"Why would they need so many new dorms," I asked myself, "there can't be that many new students coming in this year . . . "
"Oh you'd be surprised my child. You'd be thoroughly surprised."
I looked to the door and saw a face that had barely aged in my memory. Beautiful and perfectly curled as always, her raven hair fell slightly over her shoulders and down her back. Her tan skin now held an evident summer glow and the golden fire still flickered in her eyes, more youthful than I remembered. Her attire, a black dress that clung to her fit figure paired with black heels knocked off at least a decade. But what was the most welcoming was the warm smile she gave me that felt like smooth chocolate on a nice day.
"Mrs. Joyque," my voice lifted in spirits, "I'm so glad to see you!"
"It's so nice to see you, too, Karin. So very nice."
I stood up and we both walked forward with open arms, capturing the other in a heart-warming embrace.
"How are you feeling?" she whispered into my ear.
"I'm hanging in there," I admitted softly, "just barely."
We broke apart and she gazed at me gently.
"I'm so sorry, Karin. If there's anything I can do, anything at all . . . "
"Don't worry about it. I'll be alright . . . but if I do need something, I'll let you know."
"I demand to be the first to know," she said with a small laugh.
Her laugh brought a smile to my face and I couldn't help but laugh a little in return. A part of me wanted to desperately tell her that I didn't believe my dad was gone. I wanted to tell her that I felt as though my father was still out there. I wanted to tell her so many things and so many feelings, but I figured it would be better if I kept them all to myself for the time being.
"I came here to tell you that there are already students waiting at the front gate with their families. There's a handful of rambunctious boys out there. Excited for the new year to start I'm assuming. Quite the adorable group."
My eyes darted over to my closed shades, then back at her.
"Shouldn't you be in the meeting right now?"
"Oh Miss Karin," she laughed, "you've become more responsible since the last time we spoke. I'll be returning just as soon I finish here. I also came to give you your uniform."
She stepped back into the hallway and returned with my complete uniform on a hanger. My eyebrows rose in surprise at what she held in her hand—a girl's uniform. It looked similar, if not exactly, like the uniform I saved for issues of a Code White. A navy pleated skirt, with a matching vest and blazer embroidered with the academy's logo, a newly pressed white collared shirt, and a red tie to finish it all off. I took hold of the hanger and examined the attire with a bite of my lip.
"Is this uniform . . . mandatory?"
"Most certainly! But you don't have to wear it until classes begin, don't worry. Also, I wouldn't make myself too comfortable in this room."
She smiled at me as she headed towards the door. Her grin expanded once she noticed the curious look in my eyes. I assumed that the uniform was a part of the "changes" Pat had been talking about earlier.
"You'll be moved into old medical wing. The new rooms in there are top-notch, how lucky of you."
I noticed how her eyes looked over the empty walls of the dorm and lack of personalization in the room. The moment I had gotten here I was too distraught to even bother with unpacking my things. At the time they weren't of any importance to me. Then, I noticed how Mrs. Joyque seemed to linger on the blazer on my desk chair I had forgotten about. My muscles stiffened slightly and I could feel my heart momentarily quicken.
"Is that yours?" Her eyes glanced over at me.
"That was in the room when I got here." My voice was smooth and collected.
"Interesting . . . " the grin softened slightly before perking back up, "anyway, you should be on your way as well. I wish you the best of luck, Karin. I believe I also saw your friends by the gate."
She gave me a small wave before finally leaving. I let out a sigh as set down my uniform, I slipped on my shoes, and threw my hair up. I started to walk out of my room, but I paused by my desk and picked up the blazer resting on the chair. On impulse I slipped it on and let the scent envelope me. It smelled strongly of Russell, but was slightly dampened from the rain—and probably my tears and sniffling—that night. Regardless, the scent had a familiar warmth to it. The kind of warmth that reminded me of baking cookies with my mom on Sunday afternoons, riding bikes in the night with my brothers, and fanatic soccer games with my dad.
I felt a sting in my heart.
"You're going to be late, Karin," I reminded myself while shaking my head and pushing up the sleeves of the blazer, "you're going to be late . . ."
As I walked out of my room I could already hear the distinct sound of cars pulling in through the gates and the whooping and hollering of returning students, most likely my fellow senior class. I couldn't help but smile, all previous feelings seemed to wash away and my anticipation of seeing my friends again started to build. I was so excited that I didn't bother to pay attention to the hurried footsteps on tile. A voice shot through my excitement.
I looked ahead with expecting eyes. My gaze landed on a the familiar gymnast figure with bright blue eyes and blonde hair that fell over his eyes. For the first time that day, I felt a wide grin break out on my face.
"Ace," I breathed out.
Before I knew it he ran towards me and encompassed me into a tight hug. I was momentarily caught off-guard, but I hugged him back and let out a laugh as I did.
"It's so nice to see you!"
"It's nice to see you, too, Ace."
"I'm glad you're okay," he whispered into my ear, "we need to talk."
I quirked my brow, then my eyes widened. My heart skipped a beat out of worry and fear.
"—I know," he said softly, "I know."
We stepped apart and I looked at his face in a slight panic. My mouth opened for words to stumble out, but before I could say anything another chorus of voices saying my name stopped me.
"Karin! You're here!"
"Hey Ace, how about sharing!"
I looked over and saw the faces of David and Jason. They ran to me in the same way Ace did, only pushing each other out of the way.
"Hey guys. How are y—"
They practically tackled me into a hug. I laughed again and hugged them back.
"Cody and Michael left for Europe with their dads," Ace informed me, "no questions asked. We thought it'd be just us and Kevin this year. We weren't sure if you were coming back or not. Good thing you are . . . I wouldn't be able to handle these idiots alone."
David and Jason threw a glare in Ace's direction.
"Speaking of Kevin, where is he?" I looked at them.
"We thought he was already here . . . maybe it's coming tomorrow or later tonight."
I felt my heart drop a little bit. I perked up my facial features to cover my disappointment.
"Well, anyway. I need your guys' help with directing all the students to their rooms. Same set up as last year. David take the freshman and sophomores. Jason you'll take care of the juniors and Ace and I will take care of the seniors."
They all nodded and we were about to split our ways Jason said something.
I looked over at him.
- x . x . x -
"What do you mean you know?" I whispered harshly as Ace and I moved my boxes into a room located in the medical wing.
His eyes fell to the ground.
"He told me."
I dropped the box onto the ground and gave him a heated look.
"Who told you?"
In the time that I had known Ace I had never seen him show a look of fear and guilt. Perhaps it was because my voice was rougher than I had intended it or maybe the seething look in my eyes. What ever it was, it broke him enough to tell me.
"Some guy," he said quietly, "his name was Russell."
—He took one of his hands out of his pockets and placed it on my arm. His eyes came in line with mine and he stared at me, almost urgently.
"Youdid nothing. You were just a fortunate survivor of this whole ordeal. Everything that happened tonight will stay between us. Can I trust you to do that?"
"Yeah," I looked away for a moment and closed my eyes briefly, "yeah you can."
The amount of frustration and hurt that ran through my veins was unexplainable. I shouldn't have been mad. Ace was one of my closest friends here and I would've told him eventually. But that's how I wanted him to hear it, from me and from me only. Russell has trusted me not to tell anyone and I impulsively expected the same from him. Obviously, I was in the wrong.
"He said you'd be mad at him, but he wanted to tell me because we're close friends. He didn't want you going through it alone."
"Why didn't he tell Kevin. We're dating," my bitterness seeped through, "or did he tell him, too?"
"No," Ace said shaking his head, "Russell just told me and me alone."
We walked out of my room and headed back to where the seniors were scrambling for dorms. The sounds of opening and closings doors were familiar to my ears, as were the loud phrases and obscenities being shouted across hallways. The returning boys didn't have a problem getting reacquainted with the academy lifestyle.
Ace had paused behind me to talk to a couple of his friends and I was about to turn around to say something to him when I felt lips capture mine and arms wrap around me. In an instant I was blind-sided by a series of flashbacks from last year. I knew who was kissing me, I knew his touch, his smell, the half-smile between kisses, but the only face that I seemed to focus on was Russell's.
And I think that's what caught me off-guard me the most.
- x . x . x -
End Note: Hey guys, long time no see, right? I'm on my spring break right now so clearly that gave me ample time to whip out a good chapter! I'm sorry nothing exciting has happened so far, but I hope you understand that those will come soon. I have to apologize for the wait, never fear I'm working on other stories right now. Hopefully I'll get something new to you all soon. In the meantime, check out my site: voyageof95 . tumblr . com
The Chin Up Kid