Thursday, February 1
On our first day of school, I found my dorm room because I had an adorable apple name tag on my door. In October, my prefect changed the tag to a pumpkin, but I missed my apple. So Adrienne returned it to me and I taped it to the inside of the door. Sarah and I now have a collection of two apples, two pumpkins, two leaves, and two snowmen. When I returned from the bathroom this morning, I discovered that I now had a pink heart on the front of my door and Sarah had a red one. Our two snowflakes were sitting on my bed.
The hearts, of course, are because Valentine’s Day is coming up. It has never been a big holiday for me. When I was in elementary school, our teachers would always make us decorate paper lunch sacks. During our class celebration, we would drop little valentines into each bag in the back of the room. We couldn’t play favorites. We had to give something to everyone. Some people made little cards, but most of us just bought those pre-made ones with cartoon characters that came with stickers or temporary tattoos or something.
When I got to middle school, we no longer had those classroom celebrations. Instead, my friends and I would shove the cards and candies into the little slots in each other’s lockers. I only ever sent valentines to my girlfriends. But I know a few of them used Valentine’s Day as an excuse to send notes to boys they liked.
After Pat mentioned Valentine’s Day yesterday, I grew excited. This is the first time I will have a Valentine for Valentine’s Day. But, when I sat at the dinner table, I felt bad for Walter. I have Pat and Sarah has Larry. But Walter will be all alone for Valentine’s Day. I have never been much of a matchmaker. However, maybe with Valentine’s Day approaching, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to help things along.
As I headed up the science center staircase, I saw my roommate entering the building. Sarah waved as I joined her.
“Hey, Melinda.” She looked all around as we headed towards the doors at the opposite end of the corridor. “Where’s your boyfriend?”
I shrugged. “On the phone. Why?”
“Where’re you going?” Sarah asked as we disembarked in front of the Theodore Rogers Athletic Center half an hourlater.
I pointed behind me. “The TRAC. I want to hang out in the dance studio for a little while. I’ll catch up with you at dinner.”
Sarah eyed my left ankle. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
I sighed. “I’ll be fine. I promise.”
Sarah didn’t look convinced, but she didn’t try to stop me as I headed inside. While I knew my friends were trying to look out for me, I was finding their constant doubt frustrating, bordering on annoying.
I went straight to the athletic office, where I received permission not only to not only use the dance studio but also to connect my phone to the sound system. I quickly headed to the locker room to change into a leotard and shorts before unlocking the studio.
As I strapped my tap shoes to my feet for the first time in two months, I felt a surge of energy. It had definitely been too long. I stretched at the barre slowly, twisting my bad ankle in every possible direction. When I met no resistance, I turned on my tap dance playlist.
The warm-up music soon transitioned into music I could dance to. I closed my eyes, letting the music guide my feet. I danced rhythmically to the music, throwing in the occasional leap or turn. When the song ended, I went to the corner to pause the music and grab some water.
“That was fantastic.”
I copied the last of the data into my physics notebook before looking up at my lab partner. “That was the last trial.”
Erica let out a sigh of relief. “Ugh. I am so glad.”
“I copied the data for you.”
“You know you don’t have to do that anymore, right? Now that you’re back on two feet and helping with the lab, I can take my own notes.”
I shrugged. “It’s no big deal.”
Erica and I returned all the equipment to the center of the lab bench and waved to our teacher as we left the room. As we headed across campus, she turned to me.
“So, I saw you in the dining hall last night. I wanted to come say hi, but I wasn’t sure if I could speak in such close proximity to Patrick McGregor. I don’t know how you do it.”
I giggled. “I told you. I’ve always been able to look past the celebrity to see Pat Evans, fifth former.”
Erica shook her head. “It’s not that he’s famous. Well, I mean, it is. But he’s also just so gorgeous. I get tongue-tied near him. Then again, that other guy you were eating with isn’t that bad looking either.”
“I think that’s his name. I’ve seen him around campus. He seeing anyone?”
I smiled. “You want to join us for lunch?”
Erica shook her head. “I’ve got math.”
“Well, Walter and I study together most nights. I’ve got orchestra tonight, but why don’t you join us tomorrow? We usually do our lab reports on Friday night.”
Erica raised her eyebrows as we crossed the street. “But they’re not due until next week.”
“Yeah, but we like to get them out of the way while the lab is still fresh in our head.”
Erica nodded. “Works for me. I’d love to join you guys.”
“Great. We study in the rooms on the second floor of the library.”
“Fantastic. I’ll see you at practice.” Erica waved as she continued to the math building, and I headed up the dining hall steps.
“Have you been dancing all this time?” Walter asked when I joined my friends at the dinner table just before the dining hall closed.
I shrugged. “Well, I stopped at the dorm for a quick shower and my books.”
After lunch on Thursdays, Walter and I liked to spend our free fifth period in the common room of the dining hall. Since Pat had a double free period nearly every day, he usually joined us. Someone had turned on the gas fireplace, making the area especially cozy that afternoon.
As I snuggled against Pat, I turned to Walter in a neighboring chair. “So, I invited my lab partner to study with us tomorrow night. I hope that’s okay with you.”
Walter shrugged. “Yeah. I don’t see why not. Was it hard?”
I shook my head. “Nah. We’ve been working together all term. Plus, she’s on the basketball team, so it’s not like we’re strangers. What?” I sat up to glare at Pat, who was laughing like a hyena with his brother.
Walter recovered first. “I meant, was the lab hard?”
“Oh.” I pouted. “No. The lab was easy. Took a little while, but it wasn’t too bad.”
Walter nodded as he took out his programming textbook. That was usually his signal that he was giving me and Pat some privacy.
I turned to face my boyfriend. “So, my lab partner? She more or less said she didn’t think her brain would function if you were in the same room. I hate to ask, but —”
Pat tucked a hair behind my ear. “Why don’t I go to Ichthys tomorrow night? Meet up with you afterward.”
I frowned. “You were going to go anyway, weren’t you?”
Pat’s response was a slow, deep kiss that made my heart stop beating.
“Two and a half weeks, people!” Mr. William’s voice boomed across the rehearsal hall. “We have seventeen days until our performance. That’s only four more rehearsals. If you keep playing like this, we might have to practice nightly. Maybe until second study hours. Again from the top.”
With our performance so close, Mr. Williams had begun the evening saying he wanted to work through each piece in our repertoire. He even promised that if we were flawless, he would let us out early. Unfortunately, half an hour into the rehearsal, we were still working on the first piece. I silently wondered whether Mr. Williams would follow through with his threat of canceling the concert.
He tapped his baton on the stand, and I brought my flute to my mouth. As he raised his arms, I inhaled deeply, waiting for my cue. He lowered his arm. I played with the rest of the Wind Orchestra. This time, we made it to the second page before he threw his baton across the room.
“Trombones. Someone is half a measure behind. From the top, people.”
While he was yelling, Dante, a sixth form clarinet player, silently rose from his seat to retrieve the baton, making a tally mark on the board as he returned to his chair. He placed the baton in the box beside Mr. Williams.
The conductor picked up another baton from the box and raised it in the air. As everyone readied their instruments, there was a loud crash and everyone looked in my direction. My stand partner, Kelsey, bent to retrieve her flute as I straightened the music stand it had jarred on its way to the ground. Dante made another tally mark on the board.
Mr. Williams kept the Wind Orchestra until we had placed every piece all the way through. As we returned our instruments to their cases, he turned to Dante. “Who won?”
“Kelsey dropped her flute five times. You threw your baton ten.”
Kelsey smiled at Mr. Williams. “Hey. We’re both getting better. Those are our lowest tallies this year.”
By the time Sarah and I disassembled our instruments, cleaned them, and brought them to my locker on the third floor, the break between study hours was nearly over. When we reached the VAPAC lounge, we were surprised to see our boyfriends waiting for us. Pat immediately put his arm around my shoulders as Larry took Sarah’s hand.
I smiled at Pat as we all exited the building. “What’re you guys doing here?”
Pat grinned mischievously. “Well, last week, you got out about fifteen minutes late, so I figured it was a safe bet you’d be late tonight. Figured I’d walk back with you.”
Sarah frowned. “How would you know that? You two still weren’t talking last week.”
Pat shrugged. “Your tuba player, Will? His girlfriend is my lab partner. I hear rumors.”
By the time we reached the dorms, it was barely ten minutes before curfew. While Larry and Sarah entered the girls’ dorm, Pat led me past the boys’ dorm and into the humanities building. Ever since the first snowfall, Pat and I had been spending the break on the couches in the rotunda. So far, everyone had left us alone.
Pat pulled me close, kissing me deeply. A warmth extended from my belly through every inch of me and my heart stopped. I never wanted the evening to end, but only a short time later, Pat’s alarm was ringing to signal we had better return to our dorms.
After lunch Thursday afternoon, I followed Melinda to the fireplace in the dining hall common room. As I pulled her close to me, she turned to my brother in the opposite chair.
“So, I invited my lab partner to study with us tomorrow night. I hope that’s okay with you.”
Walter shrugged. “Yeah. I don’t see why not. Was it hard?”
“Nah. We’ve been working together all term. Plus, she’s on the basketball team, so it’s not like we’re strangers.”
I caught Walter’s eye. I knew that was not what he had been asking. Both of us were trying not to laugh. I probably could have managed it, but I saw the expression in his eyes. We both burst at the same time.
“What?” Melinda sent me a dirty look, but my brother recovered first.
“I meant, was the lab hard?”
Melinda gave the most adorable little pout. “Oh. No. The lab was easy. Took a little while, but it wasn’t too bad.”
Walter nodded and buried himself in his programming textbook. That meant it was time for me and Melinda to make out. But apparently, she missed the signal.
She turned to face me. “So, my lab partner? She more or less said she didn’t think her brain would function if you were in the same room. I hate to ask, but—”
She was so adorable. I had already planned to attend the Christian fellowship meeting, but she didn’t need to know that, right?
“Why don’t I go to Ichthys tomorrow night? Meet up with you afterward.”
Melinda frowned. “You were going to go anyway, weren’t you?”
She knew me so well. I loved her that much more for it. I showed her how much with a kiss that made me glad my brother was looking the other way.
That evening, Melinda had orchestra rehearsal, so, for the first time in quite a while, Walter and I studied alone.
“Hey, Pat? Can you help me with this a sec?” Walter passed his math homework across the table.
I raised my eyebrows. “I thought you and Melinda were just joking around about you copying her math homework. You having trouble?”
“Not exactly. I mean, I figure it out eventually. But, it’s just easier when she helps me understand it. I think I did something wrong here, but I’m not sure what.”
I glanced at his paper. I had never been a huge fan of geometry because of all the proofs. Tracing my finger along the page, I read through what he did twice before I figured out where he went wrong.
I turned the paper to face him. “You forgot the reflexive theorem. You can say this line equals itself.” I pointed to the diagram he had drawn on the page.
He swore. “Thanks.” He smiled at me as he took his paper back. “It’s kind of like being home, isn’t it?”
He went back to work without waiting for an answer, but I knew what he meant. Our parents had homeschooled us until we started Hartfield. Walter and I had done our schoolwork together every day. Even last year, when I took a leave of absence at school to film a movie, he would do his work with me in the school trailer.
I didn’t mind Walter asking me questions with nearly every assignment, even though it kept me from doing my own. I enjoyed spending time with my brother.
When study hours were over, I followed him back to his dorm. As he unlocked his door, I knocked on the open one across the hall.
“Hey, Larry. Break time. I’m heading over to the VAPAC. Wanna join me?”
Larry smirked. “Seriously? You can’t wait like five minutes for the girls to get here?”
I shook my head. “Bethany told me that the last few rehearsals have been running into the break.”
Larry nodded. “Yeah. They were, like, fifteen minutes late last week.” He got to his feet with a shrug. “Yeah. I guess we can wait in the VAPAC.”
Larry was silent until we left the dorm. “So, I gotta ask because I am absolutely clueless. Have you figured out what to get your girlfriend for Valentine’s Day? Are you going with the traditional chocolates? Or candies? Or flowers?”
I shrugged. “Melinda doesn’t like me spending money on her. I suggested we go out to dinner, but she nixed that idea. So, we’re just going to the Sweetheart Dance next Saturday instead.”
Larry groaned. “Oh, man. Why didn’t I think of that? Sarah and I had a long discussion and set a price limit on what we could spend, so now she’s expecting an actual gift.”
“Well, I think the chocolate and candies are overrated.”
“So do I. That’s why I’m out of ideas. Flowers?”
I made a face. “Are they even allowed in the dorms?”
“I have no idea. I’m too lazy to reread the handbook.”
“What about a stuffed animal? Girls love stuffed animals.”
Larry snapped his fingers, pointing at me. “Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. And I know just what to get her.”
“Good. Then take her out to dinner and give it to her there.”
He held out his fist for me to tap. “Thanks, Bro.”
“That’s what I’m here for.”
Melinda is always trying to build her vocabulary. What were some words in this episode that were new to you? She will add them to her vocabulary journal.