I tossed and turned. I couldn't believe my luck! She hadn't been a tourist. She was Alex's sister. I ran my mind over all our conversations trying to get a handle on Gianna. Gia was what Alex called her. His mom had died; I filed that under things not to bring up. His sister was a junior; she was funny. What else had he said? I racked my brain. Before I met her, Alex had seemed insignificant almost. He was a typical jock who came in, at the last hour, with promises to save the team this season from the embarrassment of the last eight years. Chiz liked him right away, so that had warned me to keep my distance. Chiz didn't like anyone who didn't benefit him. Why was I thinking about Chiz? I wanted to think about Gia. What else did I remember? He hated their dad, probably another forbidden topic. This, Alex hadn't said, he just called him by his first name, and his voice was thick with contempt when he spoke of him.
Gia. The day I'd seen her on the beach, I felt my heart would explode. It pounded out of my chest. As luck would have it, Mason threw the ball that far out of my reach. I still hadn't found out if he'd thrown it like that on purpose or not. From the time she had stepped on to the pier I was keenly aware of her. And sitting on the sand, she'd looked so sad. She was entranced by the waves off of the gulf. I'd yelled for her to look out twice before she actually did the third time. And then when she fell over, legs sprawled; she had legs that went on forever. When she fell and looked up, so fragile, I imagined kissing her and what it would feel like. She caught me sizing her up, she was quick. I liked that too. I willed her to look back at me when she left. And finally she did. Gia.
I couldn't believe it when I saw them leaving the beach. Until that moment I hadn't put it together, that she might actually be real and that I might see her again. Chiz and Mason begged me to go surfing. I'd have rather stayed home and hung out with mom on her only day off for two weeks. But she told me to go, enjoy my last day before school. I now was forever grateful. I couldn't even focus on surfing though. I rode a few waves, and then I snuck off to my car to change. I was nervous about the way Chiz was looking at her. Alex would have probably approved of his friend going for her.
I couldn't think of anything to talk about. Stupid prison jokes. But she played along. She showed me her pictures. She didn't have many friends, but I didn't see any boys groping her in her pictures. That was what I was really looking for. Yeah there were guys but none that had hands all over her, none that looked at her the way I wanted to look at her. Her style seemed simple. The only piece of jewelry she wore was a ring that said LOVE. I put my ear buds in remembering some of the songs we had that were the same. I'd make a play list tomorrow. But for now I picked them and I played them as I stared at my ceiling.
School. It would be here before I knew it, so long as I could go to sleep. The plan, what was the plan? I didn't have a plan. I would wing it. I was really good at winging it. I finally fell asleep after replaying the evening over and over again, and looking at the picture on my phone, a dozen times.
There was soft buzz sound. At first, in the distance, a low buzz, buzz, buzz noise. Then as I realized it wasn't supposed to be in my dream, the buzz became louder and louder. I heard my mom talking. What did she say? Late? my eyes flashed open.
"I knew that would get your attention, you need to leave in five minutes. I jumped up ran to my bathroom, brushed my teeth splashed water through my hair and on my face. I rummaged through the clothes on my floor. Picked a pair of jeans and grabbed a shirt from my drawers. Socks and shoes went on as I stumbled down the stairs. My mom sat with my sister eating breakfast. She tossed me a banana, and I was out the door. I'd put my book bag in my car two days before because I knew I'd forget it if I didn't. It was a good thing too because I was at school before I even thought of it.
I found my locker, put my stuff up and grabbed a notebook for my first class. There she was a few lockers away from me. A camo army green short pleated skirt and a black cotton top. Was I really this lucky? I stepped sideways.
"Hey." I smiled hopeful. She glanced over concentrating first and then instantly smiled.
"Hi." She put up her messenger bag; it was army green with buttons, patches and marker drawings on it. It looked vintage.
"What's your first class?" I was hoping for chemistry.
"English, Algebra 3, and then Spanish." She didn't even look at her schedule.
"Then lunch?" I asked hopeful again.
"Yeah I think so." She was closing her locker now with a spiral notebook and a composition notebook that looked worn in her hands.
"Alright I'll see you then." I turned as the five minute warning bell sounded. I had to be across the building on the third floor in by the time the next bell rang. I walked casually. I looked back at her as she disappeared into the herd of students. Once I knew she was gone I ran. I took two steps at a time up the stairs and made it to an empty seat in the middle of class, the only one left, just as the bell rang. In my rush to not be late to my first class of the first day of school, I didn't bother looking around to see if any of my friends were in my class.
"You were M I A this weekend. Why didn't you return my calls?" I knew that voice. Jillian. Gorgeous, sexy, hot Jill; and before last spring I honestly thought she was the girl I'd probably marry after high school. She had been my girlfriend since the seventh grade. But I had finally realized she took what she wanted and didn't care who she hurt. In her last scheme (or the last scheme that I knew) a girl had broken her leg, a teacher had been fired, but Jillian had landed on top of the cheerleader's pyramid with the title of Head Cheerleader. When I realized what she did, I broke up with her. Only recently after she'd seemed to have made some amends was I speaking to her casually. I didn't really want to tell her how much she disgusted me. Just because she was mean didn't mean I had to be. I shrugged, and looked toward the teacher who was reading off names. He rambled something about lab partners; I looked at Jill and groaned. She smiled pleased.
"Well, the least you can do is, walk me to my next class, English. You at least owe me that. I'm going to carry you for this A." She was opening her book to the page the teacher just instructed us.
"I think you can find it on your own, and for the record." I turned, leaned across the table looking her in the eye so she knew I was serious. "I don't owe you ANYTHING. I can take care of my own grade."
"Travis, please read out loud the first paragraph there." I held her eye contact until she looked away. Mr. Jackson was looking down at me over his glasses.
"What page again?" I turned and acted innocent.
"Fourteen." He turned back to his podium. I found the page and read out loud about exploring the wonders of chemistry.
As if chemistry wasn't bad enough, then there was Spanish class, and U.S. History. What kept me sane was the knowledge that lunch was coming. I would have thirty minutes of uninterrupted face time with Gia. I put my History book back in my locker. I began organizing things impatiently waiting for her to show up. I looked up and down both directions of the hall; she had to be coming soon. Then I saw her head bobbing. I thought she saw me. "Stay calm, be cool." I said under my breath while I concentrated on the bottom of my locker like I was looking for something.
"GIA! GIA!" We both turned our heads in the direction of the voice calling her name. Gia reached her locker, not seeing me but looking at the curly red head bouncing down the hall. Abby, I thought. You couldn't miss those curls, streaked with bleached blond strands making sporadic parts of her hair white. That was new. It would have given her an edge, if she wasn't an A+ student, and on every geek squad this side of the Atlantic. I chuckled at myself. She was a cool girl though, called it like she saw it. She had advised me to "open my eyes", when things started to seem wrong with Jillian. I'd always be grateful to her for that. She gushed.
"I've been looking for you everywhere. Did Alex give you my new number? I stopped by you know. Ohmigawd, look at you, you're all grown up. I'm totally digging your skirt. Do you have lunch next?" Gia closed her locker laughing at her.
"OK." She slowly said, pausing for effect. "I didn't even know where to begin to start looking for you. This school is so confusing,” She held up her phone. "Alex gave me A number for you, he wrote it down wrong. AND look at you! You're so gorgeous! I. Love. Your hair. Where'd you get it done? And yes, I have lunch next." She turned toward me. I still pretended to be searching my locker, but I got the feeling that she had seen me when she was walking up. "Travis was going to eat with me." I looked up when I heard my name, acting as though it was the only part I'd heard.
"You wanna join us Abbs?" I had earned the right to call her that, she'd been a good friend who'd actually kept her distance during school hours and not tried to be my instant best friend or worse, had a hidden agenda to get me to out with her, so because of that I'd skipped the games of "don't speak to me in the hall, but you can tutor me after school". She actually did tutor me last year in Geometry. I always talked to her in the few classes we did have together, sometimes inviting her to the clique outings we went on. She always declined, I think, feeling that she didn't fit right in that circle of friends.
"Sure, Travis. How do you two know each other?" She winked at me, instantly approving my interest in her friend. Was I that obvious?
"We met this weekend at the pier. Mason almost clocked her with a football." I chuckled. Gia's complexion on her face darkened a little, though I wasn't sure why.
"And then a bonfire last night, I had fun." She smiled at me and then looked to her friend; we were now walking toward the cafeteria.
"I miss all the action!" Abby sighed.
"Well, I would have invited you if I'd have had the right number for you. Next time you write it down, or, at least proof read his note." She shook her head giggling. We got into line as I surveyed the room. It was set up like the solar system, jocks in the middle, next to the cheerleaders, like they were the center of the universe. Then the groups fanned out depending on the popularity of the clique. Band sat somewhere close to the jocks, because for some reason a lot of kids were in the marching band. Of course drummers were cooler than the tuba players, so they were closer to the most popular tables. However Orchestra sat further out, and Chess Club was on the outskirts. I suddenly didn't know where I fit into the picture. I could have easily sat with the popular kids, but then thinking of Gia, I wanted to be alone with her. table for two –err three. As we moved through the line Gia and Abby chatted about their days so far.
"What do you have next?" Abby asked inching along.
"Speech with Franklin, free period, and then Art Composition, final class is U.S. History. With Martin” She sighed
"I have speech next." I was relieved, an easy class with her.
"I have Art comp seventh too." Abby added equally happy.
"Good, because aside from Alex, you guys are my only friends." She laughed, and we smiled. “It must have been nerve racking coming to this school, being a new student junior year after you've been at the same school for so long.” Abby was voicing my thoughts.
"Well, we moved around a lot. It would have been nice to graduate with my friends, but I feel worse for Alex; he's a senior." She swiped her prepaid lunch card. Abby followed, then me. "I mean we both went to the same junior high and then high school, it would have been nice, but what can we do? Oliver lives here. He wasn't going to sell his house and the bar to move to Indy for us." There was a deep sadness in her voice. Almost like that was what she wished her father had done, to allow them to graduate with their friends.
"Well I'm glad you're here." Abby sideways hugged her.
"Me too." I echoed a little softer.
"Where are we going to sit?" Abby lightened the mood as we surveyed the cafeteria.
"Over there, an empty table." I pointed. Abby led the way. We didn't sit there very long before Alex and Mason joined us.
"Alex, I can't believe you gave Gia the wrong number!" Abby started in on him.
"I read it back to you!" Alex defended.
"You weren't paying attention. Weren't you watching Cartoon Network?" Abby was relentless.
"Hey there are some quality shows on that channel. Very educating." Alex still defended.
"Don't worry Abby, I already ripped him a new one when I called and got the China Castle. 'Best all you can eat crab legs east of the Orient'." Gia said in between bites.
"That sounds really good." Mason piped in looking down at his meatloaf unhappily, "Now I want seafood." We all laughed. Chiz, who had been eating in the center of the room, got up and came and sat beside Alex, discussing what else, but some football plays. Abby and Gia began talking quietly and looking at their phones. Mason turned to me.
"Good call on that air ball Saturday, huh? She seems into you." He winked at me as he drank his Gatorade.
"Dude, I thought you did that on purpose." I nudged him with my elbow. "Definitely, a good call."
"I saw the way you were looking at her when she stood on the pier. You couldn't even see her that well, but she's hot." Mason matter-of-factly stated. "But Keep your eyes on that guy” He motioned toward Chiz. Ah, Mason; wise beyond his years. We were always wary of Chiz.
"You know why they call me Chiz, right?" Chiz had somehow managed to incorporate Gia into their conversation.
"Because you eat a lot of Cheese Wiz?" She asked innocently. I decided that I might just love this girl.
"Dude! NO! But I do like Cheese Wiz on crackers." He distracted easily, just throw something shiny in front of him. "Anyway, the girls gave me that name because I'm so chiseled. I mean look at me; I'm a rock." He lifted his shirt and flashed his abs. Mason and I shook our heads laughing; Chiz had given himself the name and insisted we called him that. Gia looked at Mason and me with her eyebrows raised.
"Well you know what they say about steroids right? It makes your wee-wee, well, wee-wee." She held her pointer finger and her thumb an inch apart. But she kept her gaze innocent and smiled politely. Both she and Abby stood with their trays, and turned to walk away.
"Baby, this isn't steroids! This is hard work! It took a whole summer to get this ripped! I was puny." he called after her.
"Not helping your point, dude." Mason said. He patted Alex on the back saying “Good luck” and we stood to take our trays to the return also. Alex had a panicked don't leave me alone with him expression on his face. Maybe he was cooler than I'd originally given him credit. So I saved him.
"Alex, I got those protein bars in my locker I was telling you about. Do you want one for before practice today?"
"Yeah, I'm coming." He didn't even tell Chiz “later” as he ran and caught up with us.
"Thanks man." He said under his breath.
And to think I almost took choir instead of speech. How glad was I that I didn't listen to Mrs. Kensington when she said I had a lovely voice. We arrived in our class and found two seats beside each other. Mr. Franklin was the Drama instructor. He was dressed in very bright colors, and waved his hands very flamboyantly. If there was a Gay Pride parade you would picture him front and center. Maybe he was in the closet of some sorts, but he was married to a smoking hot Cuban woman ten years younger than him. They had three rambunctious boys that were both involved heavily in the sports program and community drama program. It was a little awkward to see them out as a family. He was very doting and she looked at him like she would eat him up. I heard him speak of her once to another faculty member. I remembered him saying, "There is something glorious about finding your soul mate. Pita gets me in a way that is amazing. And when we make love, mountains move." I shivered at the image, I took it too far. Gia looked over at me quizzically. I half-smiled at her, relieved that Mr. Franklin began speaking.
"We are going to have an amazingly fun year, this year. I am going to push you to your dramatic limits, but don't worry, I’ll bring you back. That said this is a safe place. Where we can share dialogue, and where we can create. We will get to know each other intimately." I looked over at Gia, her complexion darkened again. He continued. "Through our words we will break down walls. Itineraries." He scanned his podium, as he held up a stack of papers, the itineraries. He then scanned the faced pausing on Gia's. He began again as he passed out the papers.
"For our first exercise, we will get to know each other. Each of you will have a minute and an half to talk about anything you want. I'd like you to all stand in the back of the room. As I call your name, come forward, introduce yourself and show me what you've got." We did as instructed. "Jackson Adams." Jackson went forward and spoke of his missionary trip to Haiti. "Jackson please take this first seat here." Jackson went to where he had been sitting before and moved his stuff to the new seat. "Ugh" I groaned realizing there would be a seating chart. "Ella Akers?" Ella spoke of how cheering was her life, and every student should have school spirit. And so it continued. He was getting dramatically close to my name and still hadn't called Gia's either. “Gianna Moretti?” Gia looked up at me with a shrug. She went to the front and smiled nervously at everyone
“Hi I’m Gia. I’m new here.” She turned anxiously to Mr. Franklin and he nodded for her to go on. “I’m from Fishers, Indiana. Well, originally I’m from here, but my mom, brother and I have lived in Atlanta, New Orleans, Texarkana...” looking down under her breath she said, “for two months,” She looked back up determined, “Louisville, Evansville, and finally Fishers, just outside of Indianapolis. I just moved back Saturday, and I’m excited for the coming year.” She paused and glanced out the window. She couldn’t meet our eyes as she began to speak fast, nervously. “It’s funny how one moment can change and define your life—send you down a path that you didn’t even see—like you were in the woods and suddenly you see a path, but it’s over grown and your scared and nervous—because there could be bears, scary snakes, or mountain lions, but you have not choice, because the path you are on is now a circle, You have no choice but to take that path, the scary one.” She looked at me. “Because it might lead you someplace safe, if you can make it to that safe place the world can be a safe place. But it’s scary to take that first step, because in one moment your life can change.” She looked at the clock nervously, counting the seconds, I was sure.
"Very nice Miss Moretti." She sighed relieved. "Please take the seat behind Miss Langley. Travis Nichols." I was still moved by Gia's speech as I walked to the front of the room scanning the faces.
"Hey, I'm Travis. Most of you know that. I guess. Um. Well. I love to surf. There is something about being in the ocean and seeing that perfect wave coming toward you." I looked at Gia. "And yeah, it terrifies you, because it's big, and it's a lot of water. But you paddle out to it, because it calls to you, and you jump up on your board. You feel the sheer strength of the creature, of the wave. And it's frightening. It could turn on you any second, but right now, as you tame it, all you feel is the salty misty breeze over your head. All you hear is the low rumble the surf, and in that moment all is right with the world. And you ride the wave until it becomes a small swell. And you no longer have to stand on your board, you can sit and either wait for the next big wave to come to you or you can paddle out to it. There's just something amazing about it and that's why I like to surf." I didn't take my eyes off of her, and I felt every eye in the room on me.
"Well put Mr. Nichols, please take your seat behind Gianna." I got my things and sat behind her. I ripped out a page in my spiral note book, scribbled a note and handed it to her. I sat back in my seat and listened to the rest of the speeches.