“Ivan keeps texting me asking when we can meet,” Haley said with a slight frown. Gail grunted and sagged further into the couch, pressing her mug of coffee to her lips.
“We could do lunch I suppose. Ask him where he’d like to meet.”
Haley sent a quick message and set her phone down on the end table with a sigh. “I figured if he were excited to see you he would’ve been texting you instead of me, you know?”
Gail blinked a little sleepily and stared at Haley. “What makes you think he’s excited to see me?”
“He’s been texting me a lot this summer, actually, and when I told him you got back early he seemed, well… you know.” She made a vague hand gesture and glanced down at her phone as it buzzed.
“He did text me a couple of times since I’ve been back,” Gail murmured, taking another sip of her coffee. “Not as much as you, apparently.”
“He’s asking if he could just come meet us here and we could decide what to do from there,” Haley said with a heavy sigh. Gail wrinkled her nose a little.
“Just tell him we’ll meet at the mall or something. If he wants to hang out for more than just lunch that’s fine, but I don’t want him coming here. Not really in the mood.”
“Fine by me,” Haley said, sending another message to him. She put her phone back down and peered over at Gail. “What do you think? Is he going to confess his love for you?”
Gail nearly choked on her coffee and had to set her mug down. “Excuse me?”
“Are you seriously telling me you haven’t noticed the way he acts around you?” Haley moved closer to Gail, resting her hands on the back of the couch above her head. “It’s pretty obvious, especially now.”
“You do realize I have no interest in that kind of thing, right?” Gail said with a frown.
“I mean, Ivan’s a nice enough guy, if a bit awkward. I think he’s just shy, though.”
“I didn’t say he wasn’t, I just said I have no interest in dating at all.”
“Mm, well, I suppose that’s fair.” Haley stood and shrugged her shoulder, going back over to the end table to retrieve her phone which had started buzzing again. “Just promise that if he does ask you you’ll let him down easy. He seems kinda sensitive.”
“Oh my god.” Gail let out a heavy sigh. “He’s not going to ask me out.”
“Do you wanna bet on it?” Haley asked with a grin on her face as she gazed down at her phone. “By the way, how’s eleven thirty sound?”
“That’s fine,” Gail muttered, taking another sip of her coffee. “So we’re going to the mall then?”
“Yep, he said that’d be fine.” Haley sent out one more message and slid the phone into her pocket, turning her attention back to Gail. “You should bring your camera and show us all your pictures from your trip. I still haven’t gotten to see them yet, and I bet Ivan would love to see them too.”
“Sure, I can do that.” Gail glanced at the clock and sighed. “Guess I should probably change and get ready if we’re gonna be meeting with him in an hour.” She stood and took her mug of coffee with her to her room, changing into more suitable clothes for going out.
Since there was still a bit of time before they had to leave, Gail decided to go through the pictures on her camera. She sighed a little as she looked through them, remembering everything about where she had been the days she had taken all of them. One picture came up from the last day of her trip and her heart sank as the memories of the phone call from her mom flashed through her mind.
A knock sounded on her door, startling her out of her thoughts, and she glanced up to see Haley peering in. “You ready to go?” she asked.
“Is it time already?” Gail asked. She pressed her hand over the little key necklace hanging around her neck and sighed. “Yeah, sure, I’m coming.”
The two of them drove to the mall together and met up with Ivan who was standing near the food court. He smiled as they approached and stood to greet them. “Haley, Gail, it’s so great to see you again. The summer felt so long without anyone else around.”
“Yeah, it’s been a hell of a ride,” Gail said. “I’m glad to be back.”
Haley threw her arm around Gail’s shoulders, pressing close to her and grinning at Ivan. “So, what do you wanna do? Go grab something to eat, just walk around? I’m up for just about anything.”
“I saw there’s a new restaurant that just opened up not far from here,” Ivan said. “I thought maybe we could try it out.”
“Sure, sounds good to me,” Gail said with a nod.
The three of them walked a couple blocks from the mall to the restaurant. There was seating outside and since it was such a nice day they decided to sit there to have their lunch. Ivan told them what he’d been doing over the summer when he went back to stay with his dad and work at a local farm. Haley talked about how she had just stayed in town all summer and had a terribly boring time working at the department store.
“I did meet someone, though,” Haley said with a rather sneaky grin. “It’s been really hard not to tell you all about it, Gail, but I wanted to wait.”
“Oh?” Gail leaned in a little closer, quite interested. “Please, do tell us more.”
Haley clapped her hands together as if she had been preparing for this moment for quite some time. “So! I was working at the store and then this gorgeous girl walks in, right? One of my co-workers kinda nudged me over and told me to go talk to her. So I went up and asked if there was anything I could help her with, and she gave me this great smile and said she was looking for something specific and asked if I could help her find what she wanted.”
Ivan raised an eyebrow and glanced toward Gail as if to say something to her. Gail gave him a rather nasty look in response and he kept quiet as Haley continued with her story.
“So I was helping her find something she liked and that would fit, and then as she was changing she said, ‘You know, I think I’ve seen you before. We might be in the same class.’ And I hadn’t realized it before because it had been awhile and I never talked to her, but she was right. We talked for a long time and she even gave me her number, and we’re going to be in more classes together this year!”
“So you like her, do you?” Gail asked, smirking a little. “How long have you two been talking to each other?”
“Oh, not long really. Three weeks, maybe a month? We did go out for ice cream once and we talked for a long time and it was great.” Haley sighed a little wistfully, a smile on her face and stars in her eyes. “I can’t wait for classes to start again.”
Ivan cleared his throat and turned his attention to Gail. “So, how was your trip? What all did you do, anyway?”
“Oh, it was great,” Gail said, taking a sip of her drink. “I just did a little road trip and was taking pictures in some nature areas. It was relaxing. Mostly.” Gail narrowed her eyes a little and sighed, leaning back in her chair and fingering the key hanging around her neck.
“Hey, why don’t you show us some of your pictures?” Haley asked, a nervous tone in her voice. “You brought your camera, right?”
Gail nodded and pulled her camera from its bag hanging from her shoulder. She turned it on and showed them her favorite pictures, telling them where they were all taken. Haley and Ivan both looked on in interest and at one point a big smile spread over Ivan’s face.
“All your pictures really are great, Gail,” he said. “I think wherever you submit them would have to be crazy to turn you down. What sort of job are you going to try and get anyway?”
“Oh, I’m not really sure right now,” Gail said with a shrug. “I like photographing nature like this, so I might try for some sort of magazine, but I kinda like doing photojournalism too. It’s different but it’s fun because I can tell a story through the pictures. I’m still deciding, really.”
“Not like you couldn’t try for both,” Haley said. “Just pick the job that makes you the happiest in the end. Or gives you the biggest paycheck, whichever floats your boat.”
Gail snorted. “I guess I’ll just wait and see where the year takes me. Things have kinda… changed a little from what I had originally been expecting to happen. I’m sure more things are bound to change as well.”
“Are you talking about your-” Ivan stopped talking when he noticed Haley shaking her head fervently. He cleared his throat and rubbed a hand over his face. “Erm, right, of course. I’m sure a lot is going to change. Senior year, after all. That’s where all the crazy stuff is supposed to happen, right?”
Gail stared in his direction for a moment then slowly nodded her head. “Right. I suppose only time will tell.”
Everyone was relieved when the term finally started. Though it took a bit for them to get back into the routine of going to classes and doing their work, both Gail and Haley seemed far happier to have things they needed to do.
For about two weeks, Gail kept her mind off everything that had happened recently and she felt like she could continue moving forward with her life. She felt content for the time being, but then she getting more messages from her dad.
“Leave me alone,” she hissed under her breath one afternoon.
“What did I do?” Katie, one of Gail’s classmates, frowned at her. Gail glanced up at her and sighed, shaking her head.
“Sorry, wasn’t talking about you. My dad won’t leave me alone. He keeps sending me stupid messages I don’t wanna answer.”
“Oh, well alright then.” Katie let out a sigh and stretched her arms above her head. “Can you believe this assignment we have to do? I mean really, why do we need to write a paper when we’re doing photography?”
“You’re a senior, you should know by now that this is just how college works,” Gail muttered as she made faces at her phone screen.
“I know, I know, it’s still frustrating. I’ve never been particularly good at writing, you know. It’s just such a pain.”
“Mmmhmm.” Gail wasn’t paying attention to Katie and instead glaring at the messages that kept popping up on her screen. “God, are you for real?”
Katie peered over Gail’s shoulder. “Is something wrong?”
“No, just…” Gail sighed and slid her phone into her pocket. “Sorry, I should leave that for later.”
Katie quirked an eyebrow at Gail but didn’t push the issue, and the two of them continued walking across the campus together. “You’ve got a job at the paper, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do. I just take pictures for them. Sometimes they’ll have me go out with other reporters so they can get more accurate pictures to go along with their articles, but most of the time they just give me assignments of what to photograph and I send it in.”
“So you’re a regular Peter Parker then, huh? You gonna take pictures of some masked vigilante that ends up being you?” Katie grinned at her and Gail just gave her an exasperated look. Katie snorted then shook her head. “So you never write for the paper, then?”
“No I don’t,” Gail said. “Not officially, anyway. I sometimes write up little snips to go with my photos, but it’s not like actual writing.”
“Well… do you think you could help me with my paper anyway?”
Gail snorted. “You should’ve just asked that to begin with, you know.”
“Is that a yes?”
Gail pulled her phone from her pocket to check the time. “I dunno. I’ve got things I need to do today. Maybe just let me check in with Haley first and see what we’re doing tonight. I’ll let you know if it looks like I can.”
“Fair enough. I should probably get going myself then.” Katie turned and walked away from Gail, waving to her once as she departed. Gail waved back and headed to the parking lot, getting into her car and driving back to the apartment.
“Haley, I’m back. You here?”
Haley sat up from the couch and grinned as Gail walked into the living room. “Guess what? I have a date tonight!”
Gail blinked at her several times, then a smile slowly spread over her face. “Oh, is that so?”
Haley nodded. “Janae and I have been talking a lot in our classes together. We sit next to each other, you know.” She let out a wistful sigh, a blissful look on her face. “She asked if I wanted to go out and do stuff tonight so obviously I said yes. Oh, I hope you don’t feel left out or anything.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Gail said with a smile. “You go have fun. I might have a study date with Katie tonight since you’re going. She’ll be happy to hear that.”
“Alright, great! I just have to pick out something nice to wear.”
Gail sent a message to Katie saying she could help her write her paper and the two of them planned to go to an all night diner where they could work. They met at seven, eating dinner together first and just talking, mostly about how their respective projects were coming along.
Gail kept glancing down at her phone and making faces, and Katie couldn’t ignore it any longer. “So are you going to tell me what that’s all about or what?”
“It’s just my dad,” Gail muttered. “He’s being an ass.”
“How so?” Katie asked, raising an eyebrow. Gail let out a heavy sigh and paused to take a long sip of her drink.
“He keeps wanting to come up some weekend and do things with me. Along with his girlfriend. I honestly don’t want to have anything to do with either of them right now.”
Katie wrinkled her nose and patted Gail on the shoulder. “That sounds like it sucks, I’m sorry.”
“It does, but it’s fine. I’m just ignoring all of it. I figure he’ll get the picture eventually… maybe.” She frowned at her phone and shook her head. “Anyway, we should probably work on writing that paper now. I don’t want to be here all night.”
“Right, of course.” Katie nodded her head and got out her laptop, ready to start writing.
It was around eleven when Gail finally got home. Her brain was fried over checking and rechecking Katie’s paper since she had insisted on making it as perfect as possible. Gail was tired and just wanted to go to bed. She didn’t even notice that Haley hadn’t gotten back yet and just headed straight for her room.
Gail closed her door and kicked off her shoes, sending them flying under the bed. She was tempted to just collapse into her bed right then and there, but decided to change out of her clothes first. She was halfway to pulling her shirt off when she noticed the man standing in the corner of the room.