Monday, December 15, 2014

Chapter 24, part 1: Unexpected Encounters

Dr. Pearl Larter won my heart the first day of Medieval History class. From the moment she came in dressed like a royal courtier and gave a soliloquy on the modern day influences of the Holy Roman Empire, Dr. Larter captivated her classroom. The elderly professor didn’t just lecture—she physically translated her passion for history to everyone in the room with each vivid description and illustrative action. The seventy-five minutes flew by as she asked volunteers to role-play the crowning of Charlemagne and the subsequent division of the Holy Roman Empire.
Over the clamor and tumult of students in the hall, I thought I heard someone call my name. I turned, trying to place the familiar voice.
Brad waved from the PoliSci department across the way. “Giselle! Come here a sec, will ya?”
He looked as All-American as ever. In his Abercrombie t-shirt and backwards cap, bookbag casually slung over one shoulder, he might as well have stepped out of the pages of the college’s advertising brochures.
“Hey listen, I got my pictures from Germany developed. There were a few shots of you that maybe you’d like to have. I got doubles so…” He trailed off as he held out a thick envelope with my name scrawled on it.
I met his eyes, surprised at the kind sincerity in his voice, and stammered thanks. Things had ended so awkwardly between us. How could he be so nice?
“Go ahead, open it.” He hovered over my shoulder as I shuffled through the stack of prints. “Betcha didn’t know I could take pictures like that.”
His eagerness and boyish bravado made me smile. “They’re really spectacular. Thank you,” I said after flipping through the first ten or so.
Each of the photos, a series of candid shots taken primarily during the visits to Vienna and Salzburg, showed the exquisite composition of an artistic eye. All that athletic talent and looks, and he still had secrets up his sleeve. Why did I walk away from him again?
“Don’t thank me yet. You haven’t seen my piece de restaurants.”
I gritted my teeth to keep from correcting him, remembering at least part of the reason I’d been willing to let Zoey have him so easily.
Brad rested his left hand on my shoulder and reached with his right to slip the last image in the stack to the top. His camera had caught me in profile, hands solemnly clasped behind my back, face and frizz glowing with the riotous pinks and reds of a window in Vienna’s Votivkirche. The expression on my face—joy mixed with awe and silent contemplation—captured all the best feelings of that trip.
Brad touched my shoulder again, ever so slightly pulling me toward him. “Of course, a shot like that would’ve been impossible without a certain type of model,” he said softly, running his hand along the side of my face. “You always did look like an angel.”
Behind us, someone made a dramatic noise of clearing her throat.
“Oh, hi Zoey,” Brad said. “I was just showing Giselle that great shot I took of her.”
“Whatever. Are you ready to go? I’m starved.” She grabbed his hand and started to drag him away.
“See you around, Giselle,” Brad called back, prompting another jerk on the arm from Zoey.

With a sigh, I looked at my watch. Only 10:50. The dining hall didn’t even open for lunch until 11:00. I headed across the quad to my second class, Modern German Cinema.
***
By the time I arrived at Paxton Dining Hall after class and made it through the cafeteria line, Ian, Lacey and her boyfriend Rob sat in front of half-eaten lunches. Ian pushed his food around on the plate with his fork. Rob leaned back scowling, arms folded across his chest. Lacey looked from one to the other and back down at her lap.
“Hey guys, what’s going on?” I said cheerfully. I smiled at my friends, and then started in on my grilled cheese sandwich.
“We were just talking about this week’s Soulfire meeting.”
“How do you think it went, Giselle?” Rob asked in a sinister tone.
“Okay, I guess,” I said warily.
“Okay, huh? You would think that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“Just that maybe if you spent half as much time studying God’s word as you do cavorting with lesbians and flirting with frat boys, you wouldn’t have stood there stuttering at a simple question last night. You supposedly represent Christians on campus, and you made us all look like idiots. The Bible says, ‘Always be ready to answer any man concerning your faith.’ Not that you’d know that.”
“Lay off, Rob.” Ian’s voice sounded low and tight.
“No, she needs to hear this. She’s part of the reason why I’m going to start a new club on campus with Lacey, a better one. Here’s another thing that you may not have heard, Ian – did you know rumors are flying around campus that one day last spring, Giselle was seen exiting Brad Talbert’s room?”
“Nothing happened in there,” I protested. “I did let a make-out session go a tiny bit too far, but that’s it.”
“That’s not what Lacey and I just heard through the Elkie Grapevine,” said Rob.
“Why do you always give so much credit to gossip?” I shot back.
Rob scoffed, “No, the question is what were you ever doing in a boy’s room anyway? You should have avoided even the appearance of evil. It’s people like you that make all Christians look like hypocrites. Nice work, Giselle.”
“That’s enough, Rob,” said Ian, slamming his fist on the table. Lacey abruptly got up and left. I could see her through the window, pacing, tears streaming down her face.
I blinked back my own tears. Had I lost Lacey’s friendship after all? Rob obviously hated me and she hadn’t said a word in my defense.
Rob left too after saying a few more choice words. I sat staring straight ahead, feeling like I’d been punched in the gut.
After a few moments, Ian put his hand on mine.
“You okay?” he asked.
“I’m not sure.” I pushed back the tray with its half-eaten sandwich and cold bowl of tomato soup. “I’ve definitely lost my appetite. Can we get out of here?”
“Sure. I don’t have another class until 3:30. We could go somewhere and talk — my room or yours?”
“Neither. I don’t want to risk giving those two any more ammunition against me.”
“How about we hike out into the woods behind the Hollow? There’s a clearing where I like to go and pray in the mornings.”