A group of about 13 students sat at desks against the classroom wall, paying close attention to the mock debate taking place in front of him. After school, they took extra time to gather for their debate club and fine tune their techniques to stand a chance at competitions at neighboring high schools. They each had their own strengths and weaknesses, and finding out what they were helped them come up with their best well-rounded teams that helped them win the last two competitions without a hitch. And they weren't planning on slowing down any this year.
Like other mock debates held the last five minutes of their meetings, two clubs members with almost opposite methods were given a topic, which stance to take, and had to argue their position without the time to do the typical amount of research, but the topics weren't as heavy handed as the usual political issues they were given at competitions. It usually pertained to smaller topics. For example, today the issue was school uniforms.
The 13 club members paid close attention. The debate between these 2 members were always heated. It was to be expected, as they were two of the most skilled members. It was a good thing the school was empty, or other students and teachers would have looked in with curiosity at the voices that were just barely holding back at yelling.
"The presence of school uniforms creates a 'level playing field; for all students. It goes without saying that at this age students preoccupied with their appearance, taking away from their focus in their studies and ability to reach their full potential," said Gretchen Grundler. She stood at one of the podiums, trying to defend the position she was given. Her orange-brown hair was kept pinned back in a braided ponytail. Under the gray and white argyle vest she wore was a simple long sleeved white blouse, matching her gray skirt. She adjusted her glasses as she continued her argument. "In addition, without the focus on the ultimately insignificant labels of their clothes, a main motivator of bullying by those who can afford more expensive brands will be gone."
"The 'level play field' you propose is negligible. Yes, students can be somewhat concerned about how they appear, but that is what comes at this crucial point in our lives when we are forming our identities and finding exactly where we belong in this world. The purpose of high school is to not just prepare its students for the next level in their education, but to foster a place of self-expression," TJ Detweiler shot back. To cope with the school lack of significant heating, he work a black sweater with a red shirt underneath, along with a pair of dark jeans. Having long ago outgrown his cap, he replaced with a dark red beanie. "As for the issue of bullying, there are plenty of other motivators that cause others to bully, and the issue cannot be solved by forcing students to change their style of dress. What kind of lesson would we be teaching if the answer to that particular sort of bullying is to change part of who you are instead of taking pride in it?"
"School is a place of education first and foremost. Just as others can find other things to bully each other over, there are many other forms of self-expression, and it is important to emphasize that their worth is not determined by the clothes that they wear. Studies done on this issue have all found that schools with uniform polices have students with higher test scores than those without."
"This is intense," one of the other club members whispered. Others nodded, agreeing with that statement. Their heads turned back and forth between the two debaters as they spoke.
"I've seen those same studies and the results are, again, negligible. Schools that enforce such polices tend to be private schools, which, overall, have higher test scores than public schools. I find that it is more about the quality of the education they receive than the clothes they wear. If the concern was truly about the education of the students than uniforms would be the last of the school officials concern."
The timer sitting on the desk between them rang, signaling the end of the debate. Though they stopped arguing, they continued to glare at each other. Slowly, those glares turned into smirk, then a laugh, breaking the tension that had built up in the room.
"Alright, good meeting, good meeting," Mr. Morton, a history teacher and who was in charge of the debate club. "Have a good weekend, and stay safe, a snow storm is supposed to be coming through."
"I see you've been working on your critical reasoning," Gretchen said. She put on her coat when she and TJ reached the front door of the school. Seeing the branches swaying in the chilly wind outside made her thankfully for the extra thick leggings she wore for that day. Still, the skies were clear, giving those looking up a clear view of the now setting sun.
"Yeah, thought I'd work on it after it almost cost us the win in the last championship," TJ said. Wrapping his scarf around his neck, he cringed at the winds just outside the door. "Looks like we're gonna have to make a run to my car. Unless you want me to pull up as close as I can get."
"You don't mind, do you? I underestimated how cold it would be today," she said.
"Nah, it's no problem," TJ said. He pulled up the hood of his coat and placed his hand on the front door. "Brace yourself for the cold."
A wall of freezing cold air burst through when he pushed the door open. Once in closed and finally died down, Gretchen brought her hands out of the front pockets of her coat and rubbed her hands together. The sounds of the basketball team practicing the gym echoed through the halls. She made a mental note to change into warmer clothes. Maybe three layers. And a blanket.
She watched TJ drive up in his red bucket of a car. She elbowed the door open and bolted to his car. That didn't do much, as the cold bit her the moment she took her first step out. Once she climbed into the car, she slammed the door, appreciating the heat coming out of the air vent.
"Are you excited about tonight?" TJ asked as he pulled onto the main road. The streets were, for the most part, empty.
"How can I not be? I'm going to meet Dr. Tyson! I have so many questions to ask him!" Gretchen said excitedly. It was enough to distract her from the remaining cold in her hands. "I hope I can get his autograph. There will probably be quite a number of people there, though. I might not be able to talk to him at all, let alone get an autograph."
"Relax, Gretch. The guys pretty famous. He's probably expecting a lot of people to show up wanting autographs," said TJ. "It'll be fine."
"I hope so. The chances of meeting him like this again are slim," she said. "Especially during a meteor shower."
"So I'll pick you up here in an hour and we'll head out?" TJ asked. He pulled up in front of her house and parked.
"Yep, that's the schedule," she said. "See you in an hour!"
Grabbing her bag, she bolted out the car and inside her house.
"Hello, mom?" She called when she closed the door.
"I'm in the kitchen, dear," her mother answered. Gretchen dropped her bag near the front door and joined her mother in the kitchen. She stood at the stove, carefully stirring of large pot. By the scent of the spices, she concluded that it was stew. It fit with the incoming weather as well. "How was debate club?"
"It was good, as per usual," Gretchen said. "Thanks again for letting me go out to the observatory."
"It's no problem. You've been working yourself ragged lately. I know you're smart, but it's not healthy to constantly be focused on school work. You're young, go out and have fun," her mother said. "Besides, you were really excited when you asked."
"I know. It's a really rare opportunity," she said as she shed her winter coat, scarf, and gloves. "I'm going to go double check and make sure I have everything I need."
. . .
"Good evening, Galileo."
Upon entering her room, she greeted her digital companion sitting and standby until she returned home from school. With newer and newer technology coming out in recent years, she found the bulky device that held the digital frog to be terribly out of date, she transferred him over to a brand new computer, complete with voice command that she programmed herself. The whole process took about an hour.
"Good evening, Gretchen. Dr. Tyson posted a message on Twitter pertaining to the observatory public opening. Would you like me to read it?"
"Yes, please and thank you. I hope he didn't cancel because of the weather," she said. Stripping out of her skirt, she kept the thick leggings on and went to her closet. She needed something different to wear with this weather. But she hated the thickness and limited movement that came with winter clothing.
"Oh, no. Quite the opposite in fact. He said that it still is taking place, but for those coming to be safe on the roads," Galileo said.
"Thank God. I can't imagine how mad I would be if it were cancelled," Gretchen said. She slipped into a pair of thick jeans. She pondered changing the argyle vest out for a sweater. It only took a second to mull it over. She swapped it for a light yellow sweater, still keeping the button up underneath.
"Are you still planning on staying at a hotel?" asked Galileo.
"Only if we don't make it back before the storm, Galileo," she said. She opened the duffel back sitting on her bag, going through a mental list of things she would need. "There's still a chance we won't."
"That's right. Me and TJ. I could have sworn I told you this," she said. "We're both into this sort of thing, so we're going together in his car. Worst case scenario, we'll have to camp out at a hotel until the storm moves through."
"That's correct, you did tell me. I must've disregarded it as you and your old friends don't 'hang out' anymore."
"We don't, but the two of us are in the debate club, so we see each other often," said Gretchen. She zipped the duffel bag. "Everything's here. Except my phone changer, but my phones charging right now. All there's left to do now is wait."
"Well, I hope you have fun, Gretchen. And be safe; the roads might have ice," Galileo warned. "And be extra careful if you have to stay at a hotel."
"What do you mean?
"You did say you might have to stay at a hotel. With a boy."
"But it's just TJ. Nothing going to happen. I'm almost offended that you think something would," she said. She emptied her backpack, neatly placing her notebooks on her desk. Maybe she should bring a few. The storm might last straight through Saturday. "Besides, I'm sure he's dating Spinelli."
"Still, teenage boys are unpredictable animals who have next to no self-control and prey on vulnerable, smart, and gentle girls such as yourself—"
"While I appreciate the concern, Galileo, there's nothing to worry about. I'll be fine," she assured. A car horn blared in front of her house. She glanced out of her window and recognized the car belong to TJ. "Has it been an hour already? I have to go." She quickly snatched her phone of the charger, and stuffed that and her laptop in her backpack. "I'll see you later, Galileo."
When she picked up the bag, she cursed herself for not taking a greater interest in keeping up her physical strength just as she did her mental abilities. She turned off her light, leaving behind a pristine room to return to.
"Hold on, hold on. Take this with you," her mother said when she returned to the kitchen. She placed two very large thermos inside of a shopping plastic bag on the table in front of her daughter. "It's some of the stew I made. It'll help keep you warm."
"Thanks, mom," she said, zipping her coat. "I appreciate it."
"Now remember to send me a text when you get on the road and when you get there, alright?"
"Alright." The car horn was heard. "I better get going. Bye, mom!"
. . .
"Ready to head out?"
The warmth from the thermos was enough to convince Gretchen to clutch them to her chest and bring them with her to the front seat. Opening the top, she took a mouthful, relishing in the heat more so than the flavor.
"Ready," she said after swallowing.
"What's that?" TJ asked.
"Stew. My mom made a whole pot and made me bring a lot," said Gretchen. Screwing the top back on, she held out the second thermos. "Want some?"
"Thanks, but no thanks," he said. "My mom made sure I thought a thermos full of hot chocolate."
"Hot chocolate? Why not coffee?"
"I never liked coffee. It makes my heart palpitate," said TJ. "But let's get going before we're late."
. . .
When they arrived, the parking lot was empty aside from three other cars. If it weren't for the sign reading "welcome stargazers!" standing nearby, they would've questioned if this was the correct place. Gretchen, who had fallen asleep on the way and only had woken up a few moments before they arrived, was fully awake once the car was parked and she fully realized where she was.
Stepping out of the car, they both looked up at the observatory, still a short walk away at the top of a few flight of stairs. The biting cold was forgotten by the both of them as they started their climb up. Every few steps, an arrow would be tapped on the railing directing them upwards.
"C'mon, we want to get home before the storm," a man in a small group they passed on their way up said.
"You don't think it's closed now, do you?" Gretchen asked. They paused, watched the group make their way down the wooden stairs.
"There's only one say to find out," TJ said. "Let's keeping going."
She nodded, and continued to lead the way to the top. The way was longer than it looked. Occasionally they had to slow down to avoid slipping on ice that had formed on a few of the steps. But the long car ride and facing the cold was all worth it when they reached the observatory, and saw the red light coming out of it.
"Hello? Is anyone there?" Gretchen called out.
"Yes, yes, I'm still here!" A male voice called from inside the observatory. An African-american man in his late 40s or early 50s stepped out of the observatory. Wearing a very thick coat, it was a wonder," how he was able to move at all. "Are you two here for the opening?"
"We are! You weren't about to close, were you?" Gretchen asked.
"In about an hour, I was. I was just adjusting the telescope to focus in on Jupiter," Mr. Tyson said. "Come on inside. It's still chilly, but at least it keeps out the wind."
The inside of the observatory wasn't too large, but it had more than enough space for the three of them. A few charts and books were on a table, with the books acting as a paper wait. The red lightbulb was on the wall nearby, next to a sign that listened all the closing procedures for the observatory.
"How long have you to been interested in astronomy?" Mr. Tyson asked. He continued to adjust the telescope for the clearest picture.
"Yeah, ever since were kids," TJ said. "The first book about space that I read was by you."
"That's great! Inspiring people to get into science is what I live for," he said. "And. . .we have full view of Jupiter. Which one of you wants to look first?"
"Go ahead, Gretch. Coming up here was your idea," said TJ. "Ladies first."
As Mr. Tyson stepped aside, she stood in front of the telescope and looked through the eyepiece. Once her eyes adjusted, she saw Jupiter and a few of its more outstanding gas rings, and even a couple of its moons.
They spent most the remaining hour looking at, not only Jupiter, bur Saturn, and Mars as well. Gretchen was able to engage in a deep conversation about the subject, as well as getting an autograph. Overall, the choice to come out and the effort they had to put in to convince their parents was worth it, even if it was only for an hour.
. . .
When the snow starting coming down, it started as a slight flurry, nothing to worry about. It was one of those light flakes that made students get their hopes up that school would be cancelled or end early. But it eventually turned into a heaver, thicker, snowfall, that made it difficult to see past ten feet in front of the car.
"I think we better find a hotel. Or motel," TJ said. Even with the window blades going as fast as they could, it didn't help improve visibility on the road. Flipped his high beams on. It being night didn't help at all. "Can you search on your phone for any nearby?"
"I'm already searching," Gretchen said. She typed away on her phone. She scrolled through the search results until she found something near where they currently were. "There's a hotel a mile up, off the next exit. It's $75 dollars a night."
"Great! We're going there."
"I should probably call my mom," she said. Before she could scroll down to her home number, he phone screen went black, displaying the low battery icon, and shutting off. "Damn phone. The battery's dead."
"Use mine," TJ said. He handed her his phone out of his coat pocket. "The password is 9225."
"Thanks," she said. Unlocking the phone, she paused when she saw the background was a simple three colors, blue, yellow, and pink, that she recognized. Her eyes wided a bit when he remembered what exactly those colors stood for together.
"Aren't you gonna call your mom?" He asked, turning onto the exit.
"Oh, right. I am," Gretchen said. Quickly, he dialed her home phone number. The second ring barely began before it was answered.
"Hello, Gretchen?" Her mother answered. "Are you on your way back?"
"We were. But the storm caught us. We're going to check in at a hotel until it's over," Gretchen said.
"I see it. It's right up ahead," TJ told her.
"What's the name of the hotel?" her mother asked.
"Just a standard Days Inn. We're about to pull in," she said.
"Good, good. Don't forget the emergency credit card me and your father gave you," said her mother. "Now would be a good time to use it."
"I know, mother. I have it with me."
While she talked on the phone, the car was parked in front of the hotel. Judging by how few cars there were, not many people were staying there, and rooms were available. By now the snowfall increased, making being on the road highly dangerous. Any longer and they might not have made it here.
Once inside the lobby, they shook off the snow that fell on their heads and shoulders. Behind the counter sat a college-aged girl, probably working there over winter break, flipping through a magazine. She looked up and stopped blowing her bubble gum when they came to the counter.
"Can I help you?" She asked.
"Yeah, we need a room. Kinda can't go anywhere in this storm," said TJ. "It's 75 bucks a night, right?"
"Uh-huh. But we don't let teenagers rent hotel rooms," Carrie, her name tag read, said.
"We can't exactly make it back home in this weather. It's too dangerous to be on the road," Gretchen said. "Surely you can make an exception in this case."
"Hold on," she huffed, turning and going into the back.
"You'd think we wouldn't have to ask. We can't exactly go home right now," TJ said.
"Still, hotels have policies, and like to stick to them," said Gretchen. She searched through her backpack for her wallet and pulled out a credit card. She placed it on the counter, ready to use it. "Then again, I doubt they'll be willing to risk forcing us back on the road."
"You don't gotta pay for it. I have enough," he said.
"No, you've already been kind enough to drive us out here. I didn't even give you gas money. Besides, my mom is expecting me to use this," she said. "Think of it as my half for this trip."
"What seems to be the problem?" A much older looking man came out from the back. By the looks of it, he was the manager of the hotel.
"We need a room. We tried to get home from where we came from, but the storm caught us," TJ explained. "I know you don't rent rooms to teens, but can you make an exception in this case?"
"Hmm. That storm does look nasty. Well, alright. For this case, we'll give you two a room," he said. "How are you paying?"
. . .
Gretchen dropped her bags on the first bed she saw in their hotel room. Two full beds, a TV in front of them, a mini kitchen close to the door, bathroom, and window, it was pretty standard for a hotel. The bed wasn't half bad either, though she didn't know if it was because she was tired, or the bed was genuinely comfortable.
"Tired?" TJ asked her. He placed his bags next to the only remaining bed.
"Like you wouldn't believe. I need a hot shower but I can't get up," she said. She kicked her boots off, and they landed on the floor with a thump. Getting into pajamas and snuggling into bed sounded really nice at the moment. Maybe after a few cups of that stew to help lull her to sleep.
"C'mon. Gimme your hands. I'll pull you up," TJ said. She found the strength to hold her arms up just high enough for him to grab and pull her to het feet. "That wasn't so bad, was is it?"
"It was the worst," she joked as she grabbed her bag. "I can't wait to go to sleep. But shower first."
. . .
The moment she was in her pajamas, Gretchens moments were pretty much robotic as she exited the bathroom, dropped her bag next to her bed, and collapsed on her bed. Sometime between then and how she supposed she wiggled her way under the covers and placed her head on a pillow, though she doesn't remember doing so.
Waking up in the middle of the night, she struggled to keep a death grip on sleep, but it failed as it slipped from between her fingers. Groaning, she opened her eyes to a dark hotel room. Not pitch black however, as there was still a bit of light coming from somewhere in the room. Maybe that's what woke her up? She turned over, facing the window and TJ's bed. He laid on his back, under the covers, scrolling through his phone, seemingly unaware that she was now awake.
What time was it? She didn't put her phone on the changer, so it's still dead. That brought her attention to her glasses. Forgetting that she even had them and thus accidently sleeping with them on happened often enough for her consider getting contacts just to avoid breaking them or bending the arms from sleeping on them. She patted around the covers for any lump that might tell her where either two of those items might be.
"Did my phone light wake you up?" TJ asked.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, probably," she mumbled. She pulled out her glasses and phone. The glasses where, thankfully, unbent. "What are you still doing up?"
"I couldn't sleep," he said. "Got a lot on my mind."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not right now. But thanks," TJ said. "I appreciate the offer, though. But we should probably get to sleep. It's 2 am."
She nodded, remembering how tired she was. A good nights rest is what she needed if she didn't want to feel like a zombie in the morning. Turning over, she wrapped the covers around herself and went to back sleep.
. . .
The only sound that greet Gretchen when she woke up was the harsh winds blowing against the building. She certainly felt a lot better than when she woke up in the middle of the night, but the bed and covers had a good grip on her. But she managed to fight it of and go to the window. Opening the curtains, all she saw was a wall of white. When she put her glasses on a squinted a bit, she could see the thick snowflakes coming down diagonally.
"The powers probably out," she mumbled. She checked, and to her surprise, the lights came on without a hitch. "That's one thing I don't have to worry about. I wonder where TJ went."
As if on cue, the door opened and TJ came on through, pushing a cart filled to almost the brim with covered plates.
"The staff came up earlier and said they made breakfast. I would've woken you up then, but you were really tired. They said they had enough food for a week, but since there's only us here it'll last a lot longer," he said, kicking the door close. "They made French toast and eggs. You don't mind that, do you?"
"No, I just want food," she said, taking a plate.
"Wow, it's really coming down out there," TJ said. He went to the window to get a closer look. "Fun fact, I actually like snowstorms."
"Really? Why?" Gretchen asked with a mouthful of egg. "Time off school?"
"Well, there's that," he chuckled. Grabbing a plate for himself, he sat next to Gretchen in the remaining seat nearby the window. "But I like how quiet it is outside after. It's like the whole world is given permission to just relax and take a nap. And stop worrying about things for a day or two."
"That's an eloquent way of putting it," she said. "I could use a day like this, then."
"Really? What are you worrying about?"
"You know. Thy typical things people our age worry about. School, grades, and now college now that we're juniors," said Gretchen.
"You? You're telling me that you, Gretchen Grundler, the smart girl in the whole school, and probably the state, is worried about school, grades, and college?" He asked in disbelief.
"Even geniuses worry about these things, TJ," she said.
"But why? Someone with your grades has the whole world ahead of them. You can pick anything you want to be and go for it without anything holding you back."
"You're not wrong in that aspect. And I am lucky for that sort of chance. But. . .," she paused, seating her fork an knife down. "Can I tell you a secret?"
"Yeah, sure. I'm good a keeping those."
"I'm starting to experience what many others call 'burn out'," she said. "It's not that I feel overloaded with school work. That's not the case at all. It's just that I'm getting sick of doing it. It's all I focus on. And the aspect of doing more of that for 4 or more years sucks the energy right out of me. I think it would be best if I took a year or two before I go to college."
"Wow. Heh, and I feel burnt out after a few tests," he joked. "But if that's what you feel you need to do, then go for it, Gretch. You don't wanna go to college before you're ready. Besides, even after five years, I bet Ivy League schools would still be fighting for you to go to one of them. What do you wanna go for? Physics? Medicine? Biology? A new field in science altogether?"
"I'm not sure. Another reason why I shouldn't go right away, I suppose," said Gretchen. "Thanks for listening. I'm still trying to think of a way to tell my parents."
"I'm sure they'll understand."
"What about you? Have you decided what you want to study in college?" she asked.
"Nah. I guess I sort of have the opposite problem you do. My grades aren't exactly noteworthy and I don't have many talents, so I'm not sure what I want to do," TJ said.
"You have plenty of talents. Like debating. You helped bring us to the championship the last two years. You can go into politics with that sort of skill."
"But politics is so corrupt. I'm not getting involved with that. I like debates, not politics," he said. "Debates are fun, and politics is just manipulating people. I can't do that. I want to help people, not use them."
"Maybe a teacher, then?"
"I actually thought about that. But more time in school? Nah, I'll pass. I'll probably take a year or two off, too. To figure out what I want to do," he said. "But enough talking about depressing stuff. We get the weekend away from home, let's have some fun!"
"And exactly what fun can we have snowed in at a hotel?" Gretchen asked. The wind still blew outside, limiting what they could do. She sat her finished plate on the cart and went into the bathroom to wash her hands.
"I dunno. We'll think of something. Maybe we can watch a movie or something. There's a gym downstairs. Or sleep. I can really sleep," TJ said. "Sleep sounds really good, right now."
Gretchen's phone rang from the table next to her bed. After leaving his plate on the cart, TJ checked to see who it.
"Galileo is calling you. Is that normal?"
"No, it's not," she said, coming out of the bathroom. She snatched the phone up and huffed. "Hello, Galileo?"
"Oh thank goodness, Gretchen, you answered!" She heard Galileo say. "Are you alright?'
"I'm fine, Galileo. Perfectly fine. I'm at a hotel, like I said I would be," she said. "With TJ."
As he decided to rant on, Gretchen covered her mouth and chuckled.
"What's so funny?" TJ asked
"Galileo thinks we're up to something since we're in a hotel together," she said. "I tried telling him otherwise, but he won't listen to reason. He doesn't like you right now."
"Can you put him on speaker?" He asked.
"Just do it, I'm gonna mess with him," he snickered. Curious as to what he had in mind, Gretchen put her phone on speaker, letting Galileo's rant be heard throughout the room.
"And I am sure his record would not look favorable in the eyes of the authorites—"
"Hey, Galileo! Long time no hear!" TJ said. "Gretchen tells me you're worried about her being around me. And I promise you, that I can control myself. Even though she is quite beautiful, I will fight, and control my male urges, even if it kills me. But I AM fighting a losing battle. Both of us are, really. With these RAGING teenage hormones, you know."
"TJ, you're going to make him malfunction," she warned. Still, she was holding back a laugh.
"But you can trust me, Galileo. I will keep my hands to myself, as long as I can, anyways."
"He's just kidding, Galileo!"
"No I'm not."
"Gretchen, this young man is dangerous," Galileo said. "Find another hotel room, please."
"I'm fine. TJ's just joking with you. Listen, I'll be back home in a day or two, depending on how soon the roads get cleared. Try not to worry about me, okay? I'll see you then." Before the computer program could reply, she ended the call. "Thanks to you I'm going to be hounded about this when I get home!"
"Aw, I was just having a little fun," TJ said, still chuckling. "He's concerned about you."
"A little too much," Gretchen said. "But it was funny, I'll admit. Now what are we going to do?"
"I was gonna head down to the gym. It's nothing special, but it has all the basic stuff a gym needs," he said. "I can't get too lazy. And all that laughing gave me a lot of energy, so might as well burn it. You wanna come? You looked like you were having trouble just carrying your duffel bag."
"You noticed that? I must be weaker than I thought,' she said. "I probably, should. What good is a strong brain inside of a weak body?"
"Yeah, you are kinda scrawny."
"I am not scrawny!" She defended, folding her arms. He just chuckled.
"A little bit. Not in a bad way, though," he said. "I'll see you down there, okay?"
Once the door closed when he left, Gretchen huffed. She looked at the mirror that hung on the back of the door and was greeted with a reflection of her rather skinny frame. Exercise was definitely wasn't her strong point, though she did watch what she ate and didn't divulge on sweets too often.
A little bit of regular exercise couldn't hurt, right?
. . .
"I almost thought you wouldn't come."
When Gretchen finally made it down to the hotels gym, she wore a pair of pink shorts and white t-shirt, nothing special. Gym were always intimidating in her opinion. All those people who already knew what they were doing and like they didn't need to be there anyways. The fear of looking like an fool was enough to keep her away.
"I was thinking about exercising long before this moment," Gretchen said. She stepped onto the treadmill next to the one TJ was keeping a steady run on. "Now, how do you start this contraption."
"Just push the start button," he said, pushing pause on his treadmill. "Those two arrows on the left are for the speed. You wanna work your way up since you're new at this. The arrows on the left are for incline."
"Alright, that doesn't sound too bad," she said.
She started at 2.5 mph, which was about a light walk. Feeling confident enough, she brought it up to 3 mph, a fast walk. Still, she might as well have been crawling in comparison to TJ, who was still running and had yet to have broken a sweat. Then again he must've been doing this for years and built up an endurance as a result. She would just have to work on her own.
With another burst of confidence, she increased the speed to 3, then 4 mph to a light jog.
Five minutes later and she regretted that choice. Breathing hard, the back of her throat burned, but not nearly as much as her legs were. How did people manage to do this on a regular basis? Now she could understand why most people didn't stick to a regular exercise routine.
She pressed the pause button, and the treadmill gradually slowed to a stop.
"You okay?" TJ asked. She bent over, hands on her knees, while grasping for air. "That's gonna make it harder for you catch your breath. You have to stand up straight."
"I know,I know. . ." she gasped.
Gretchen managed to stand up, but leaned against the handles of the treadmill, still worn out. TJ stepped off his, quickly going over to the vending machine next to the door. He returned with two bottles of water, and handed her one.
"Thanks," she said. Three large gulps and she only felt slightly better.
"You did good. Better than most people on their first day," TJ said.
"You're not just saying that because I'm your friend, are you?" Gretchen asked.
"No, really. For someone starting out, you did good. You'll do even better if you keep going," he said.
"Thanks, but I'm not trying to run a marathon like you can," she said. "Just a regular routine is good enough."
"You wanna work on muscles next? I promise you won't lose your breath."
"Yeah, that, uh, that sounds nice."
. . .
"That was the worst decision I have made in my entire life."
By the end of her time at the gym, her arms and legs ached, and it was a miracle that she had enough strength to make it back to their hotel room. It was a good thing they were only on the second floor, or else TJ might've had to carry her most of the way.
"High lactate built up, burning muscles, body struggling to flush it out," she moaned. She laid on her back on her bed, worn out, and questioning the need to work out again. "Pain."
"Don't worry, that'll stop happening the more you go," said TJ. "The trick is actually going back tomorrow."
"TJ why are you trying to kill me?"
"No pain no gain," he said. "But seriously, if you stretch and take a cold shower, it'll help you feel better. C'mon, gimme your hands I'll pull you up."
She groaned, only managing to bring her arms up by a few inches. Her muscles protested, aching at her attempt to move her limbs. Was she that out of shape? Did gym class do nothing to keep her in relatively decent physical shape? She might have to write a complaint letter. She tried again, but failed. Seeing she wasn't able to get up on her own, TJ grabbed her hands as they lied on the bed and gently pulled her up to her feet.
"I think my feet are the only thing that don't hurt," she commented. "I need to soak for an hour. Can you carry my bag into the bathroom? I don't have the strength."
. . .
The next two hours was spent in relative silence, with the TV creating background noise with whatever movie was on. By the sound of it, it was some generic mystery film from the 80s that more than likely had a sequel. On their phones, Gretchen and TJ didn't pay much attention to the TV in favor of scrolling through their phones and social media feeds as most teens do.
According to the news, the worst of the storm would be hitting later that night before moving out by early morning. Considering how long it might take to clear the roads, they guessed they'd be able to head back home sometime in the afternoon.
Sending her mother a text just to check in, Gretchen glanced at the TV to see if the movie was remotely interesting. It wasn't. There wasn't much else to do though. Maybe do some schoolwork? No, if there was ever a weekend to take a break from that, it would be now. She stretched, and her muscled ached in response.
She looked over at TJ, who was still focusing on whatever was on his phone, probably effected by the same amount of boredom as she was. With most likely more friends than she had, she assumed that he was texting his friends, if the tapping away at the screen was any indication. Then she remembered the background she saw on his phone.
"TJ?" she spoke up.
"Huh?" He asked, not looking up from his phone.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Yeah, go ahead."
"When you let me use your phone earlier, in your car, I saw the background you had for it, and I recognized it," she said carefully. "So does that mean you're. . .you know. . "
"Pansexual? Yeah. I never told anyone because I didn't think it was that big of a deal," TJ said. "It's not worth the time trying to explain it to people anyways so if anyone decides to ask I plan on just telling them I'm bi. But so far no one has."
"That makes sense, I suppose," she said. "But thank you for trusting me enough to tell me."
"Yeah, no problem. It's nice knowing someone who already understands what it is," he said. "I'm getting kinda hungry. I'm gonna go see what's for dinner. I heard they were planning on making burgers."
When he hotel door closed, her phone buzzed. She rolled her eyes when she saw it was from Galileo. She choose to ignore it, though more messages continued to roll in, signaled by that same increasingly annoying buzz.
. . .
Waking up in the middle of the night for the second time, Gretchen was sure it was going to adversely affect her sleep schedule. She shivered, bringing her legs closer to her chest for more warmth. All the heat has left the room, leaving it cold and biting, and tempting even the most reasonable person to start a fire. She reached out for her glasses and quickly put them on.
"It's freezing in here," she heard TJ say from his bed. "Did the heat go bust or something?"
"That would be the most likely cause," Gretchen said. She began to shiver, pulling the covers and sheets tightly around her body. She watched TJ climb out of bed and walk, shivering, to the light switch next to the front door. She heard it being flipped on and off again and again, but the lights didn't come on.
"Looks like you were right. Powers out," he said, coming back over.
"I can't sleep in this cold. I'll be frozen by morning," Gretchen said. Her teeth began to clatter.
"I mean, we could sleep in the same bed and put our covers on top of each other," he suggested. "If that's okay with you. I think it's the only way we're not gonna become popsicles, unless the people working here are gonna come by with extra blankets."
"I'll try anything to stay warm."
She returned her glasses to the nightstand and almost buried herself under the covers. As much as a large cup of her mothers stew would help warm her up, she couldn't bring herself to get from under the covers to get to it and warm it up. She felt the added weight of extra covers as TJ placed his over hers. She moved over, making room for him as he climbed in.
"Better?" He asked.
"I'm getting there," said Gretchen. "You still always have a plan, don't you?"
"Sometimes," he said. "G'night."
. . .
The beeping of her phone alarm woke Gretchen up. Sundays were usually spent working of school assignments, but not today. She leaned over, turned the alarm off, and turned back around, and laid back down on TJ's chest.
Judging the light filtering in through the curtains, the snow storm as past, and one could step outside without becoming a snowman or being blown 20 miles west. If that was the case, they the roads should be cleared within a few hours, and they'll be clear to go home. But it was still the weekend, and sleeping in sounded really nice.
. . .
. . .
. . .
Wait. . .
When she realized what position she was in, Gretchen jolted up. The room was warmer than before, meaning the power was back on, which was a good thing. Still asleep, TJ laid on his back, lightly snoring and blissfully unaware of what just happened. Good. She laid back down, this time on the mattress and pillow.
She never really had the opportunity to look at him up this close. He still had those childish, reddish freckles sprinkled on his cheeks and across this nose. Who would've guessed that chubby, troublemaking kid would've grown up and become so handsome? And smart, too. He was the only one who she could go toe to toe with in any debate, and Psychics class. The last one came as a surprise. Apparently when TJ was really interested in something, even something as difficult as physics class, he excelled. It made for interesting science projects.
With a deep breath, TJ started to wake up. He stretched, then settled back down into the covers.
"Is it morning?" He asked. He blinked a few times to adjust to the light.
"It is. And the power is back on," she said. "The storm is over, too."
"That's great! We can go home as soon as the roads are clear," he said. "Did you have fun this weekend?"
"I did. I was the most fun I've had in a while. And the longest I've gone without thinking about my next assignment or worry about college," said Gretchen. "Thank you, TJ. I guess I didn't know that I needed this weekend."
"Sure, no problem," he said, rubbing his eyes. "Glad I was able to help."
. . .
They were able to head out at 2. After a big breakfast and lunch and thanking the hotel staff, they were back on the road. After 2 careful drive lasting an hour, they made it back to Third Street. Gretchen waved goodbye from her porch once she was dropped off. Once inside her house, she dropped her bag, ready to sleep in her own bed.
"Gretchen, is that you?" She heard her mother call from the living room.
"It's me, mom," she said, joining her mother on the couch.
"Did you have fun at the observatory?" asked her mother.
"Oh, it was amazing, mom! Dr. Tyson talked to be about everything I could ask about, and I even got his autograph!" She said excitably. "I might've been freezing the whole time, but it was definitely worth it."
"I'm glad you had fun sweetheart," her mother said. "I'm making lasagna for dinner. You go and settle in, aright?"
She nodded, forcing herself off the couch. Upstairs in her room, she stopped herself from turning Galileo on by greeting him. When she dropped her bags, her phone vibrated in her pocket. It was a message from TJ.
TJ: I forgot to send you these pictures I took up at the observatory.
Six picture loaded soon after. The first was of her looking through the telescope, and the next four was of her talking to Dr. Tyson, excited at the opportunity just to be there. The last was the only one that she knew he took, of the three of them together with Dr. Tyson in the middle.
"I didn't know he took those other pictures," she mumbled. "Huh. He just keeps on thinking about others, doesn't he?"
Smiling, she sat her phone down and started unpacking her bags.