In my defense, I said way back in chapter one that I wasn't going to be updating this story quickly. I was going to take another month to write another scene, but in the end decided that while I take that month, the rest of you might as well have something to read.
Anyway, this chapter's title is also the name of a song, CHERRY GIRL by KODA KUMI. Some of you might remember her as the one who performed real Emotion/1000 Words in the Japanese version of FFX-2; she's a very good singer, and in my world, Lenne is always sung by her.
x x x
if you stumble just laugh it off
it's alright to walk barefoot
don't let your feelings get in the way
x x x
Three minutes and twenty-two seconds. Rikku frowned in between gasps, clutching to the side of the pool with both hands. After a few moments, her breath slowed. She started again.
Four-minutes and one point eight seconds. Worse.
Three minutes and thirty-nine point two seconds. Better, but still terrible.
Three minutes forty-seven---
Three minutes fifty-one---
The second time Rikku got over four minutes (four minutes and seventeen seconds), she gave up. Gasping and clinging to the side of the pool, barely able to muster the strength to stay afloat, she pulled her swim goggles off her eyes and let them dangle around her neck. Pathetic. Here she was--unable to manage a decent time--swimming was supposed to be her thing--and here she was, skipping class to practice and doing worse and worse--skipping class...
But if she really looked at it, really admitted it to herself, Rikku hadn't skipped class to 'practice' at all. It had just been her excuse, and probably not a good one at that. She just hadn't been able to stomach it. The idea of going into St Bevelle--of possibly seeing him in the halls...
Rikku had only been a student for three days, and she was already starting to fail. Detention on her first day, cutting on her third... she was well on her way to becoming a bad student. Rikku had never been a good student, exactly, not even in her old school. She wasn't the smartest person in the world... she had gotten poor grades... she had sometimes blown off a class, sometimes done something to land her in detention. But nothing so deliberate.
Finally she mustered up enough strength to pull herself out of the pool. First class was probably only half over by now, so the gym was still deserted. Rikku had arrived here at six this morning for swim team practice, and stayed once everyone else had showered and changed and left for class. No one seemed to have noticed or cared. It had been her first meeting with the swim team--four other girls and five boys. Two of them--a boy and a girl--were also Juniors, but Rikku hadn't recognized them. What she had noticed, though, was that everyone was much stronger than her.
Rikku had been under the impression that, since St Bevelle had recruited her specifically for her swimming ability, it must mean that she was a swimmer of exceptional talent and skill. That she would join the swim team and amaze everyone with her ability, winning trophy after trophy and bringing the school to a new level of fame.
She hadn't realized that the other swimmers had, of course, been recruited as well: that they were good, too, and that they had been practicing longer. As the newest member of the team, Rikku was probably the weakest swimmer.
If she could just beat three minutes... Rikku's legs finally felt strong enough to support her weight, and she climbed out of the pool. It was probably impossible. She was a high school student, not an olympic athlete. Dripping wet and worn out, Rikku picked up her towel from a bench and draped it over her shoulders, padding over to the locker rooms to shower the chlorine out of her hair and change. Her legs and arms ached, and she had the feeling that her tiredness wasn't only from the extra swim practice. She wasn't the best student, maybe, but Rikku had never been the kind to try and get into trouble. How long could she keep running away? Sooner or later she'd get into trouble for skipping... and the solution, to stop and face... she couldn't tell her brother or dad...
She sighed deeply as she rounded the corner to the girl's locker room. And practically tripped over Gippal, who was sitting with splayed legs on the floor, reading a newspaper avidly. As usual, his uniform was in a state of disarray, his hair spiked, and his right eye covered with a white medical patch. Despite Rikku's surprise at seeing him--not only cutting a class, but doing so here, and in such an inconvenient spot--he hardly glanced towards her. Just a flicker of his eyes, and then back to the paper.
"Excuse me," Rikku said primly, resisting the urge to pull the towel from her shoulders and use it to cover her torso. It was too late now, and anyway Rikku wasn't too concerned about who saw her in a swimsuit to begin with.
"Oh, sorry," Gippal said, turning the page as he pulled up his legs. Not sure what else to do, Rikku walked by him and into the girl's locker room.
x x x
In the shower, Rikku wondered about him. She had known Gippal for exactly as long as she had been attending St Bevelle -- three days. But he had acted from the start like they had known each other longer, like they were dating. Which was flattering, and nice, and a little annoying, but... But Gippal had also been there in detention. He was the only other one that knew about her and... Even though she would never have told him otherwise. But in the two days since then, Rikku hadn't seen him. She had seen Tidus, and once that Isabelle-Paine girl, but she had avoided them both. She was afraid to see Gippal... that was it. Afraid of what he might have told his friends... Rikku remembered Paine mentioning that Gippal couldn't keep secrets... and what he might think of her, running away like a little kid.
Three days wasn't really long enough to send a message--the message being "I am avoiding you"--but Rikku had planned in a guilty way to keep it up, to keep doing it, to lose the potential friends she had found before even making them, all to keep from having to come to a confrontation about it. But it didn't look like Gippal was going to let her avoid him. Rikku tried to kid herself into believing he happened to be skipping class at the same time as she, that he happened to have gone to the same place... and sit down right where she'd notice him, be forced to notice him...
There was a unfamiliar squirm in her stomach as she dressed that Rikku didn't think could be counted entirely towards nervousness. But if this was what having a crush was like, maybe she was better off without.
Showered, dressed, and another ten minutes spent on putting her hair in a pony tail--there was nothing left for Rikku to do in the girl's locker room without making her stalling exceptionally obvious. Second period was starting soon, but she wasn't going to hide in the girl's locker room until then. Gippal was still sprawled out in the corridor when she left.
"Hi," she said.
"Check it out," Gippal said happily, nodding towards the newspaper in his lap. "You know that pop idol? Lenne? Izzy has one of her CDs, but she doesn't admit it. I found it under her bed."
Rikku wasn't sure where this line of conversation was going--was Gippal crafty or just as dumb as she was? "I have some of her CDs," Rikku said defensively.
"Really? I like her deep voice, and she's pretty hot, but I don't think her music is that good," Gippal said. "It's like she can't decide if she's pop or hip-hop. Anyway, she's dead."
"Huh?" Rikku wasn't a huge fan of Lenne's, but the idol was the City's biggest pop celebrity, celebrated for her looks and fashion as much as her music. Most of the girl's in Rikku's old high school had been fans, trading CD singles and singing her hits karaoke. "What?"
"Dead. D-E-A-D. She was found murdered yesterday," Gippal said, gesturing towards the paper. "She was found all shot up, and her boyfriend's missing. Wanted for questioning. Tidus'll be heart-broken, he liked Shuyin." At Rikku's confused look--she had fallen somewhat behind--Gippal clarified. "Lenne's boyfriend is a pro soccer player, right forward--or left forward, or maybe he's goalie or something--on Tidus' favorite team."
"You know all the gossip, huh?" Rikku asked, sitting down cross-legged on the floor opposite Gippal, along the opposite wall. It didn't look like Gippal was going to bring up anything important, so she felt slightly safer.
"Rumor also has it," he said, grinning, "that Judge Alexander will be presiding the case, since he's the number one judge around here. You don't know the girls I hang with," he added. "If I don't gossip, no one will. Izzy is all high and mighty about it, and Lady Yun-Yun feels scandalized by it." Gippal was quiet for a moment, thinking about his fate as Rikku considered the same.
After a minute, he grinned, closing his paper and leaning towards Rikku. "Speaking of gossip, there's a rumor going around school that Coach Wakka did some nasty stuff to your family and you're planning to skip all your classes until he apologizes."
"What? No!" Rikku shrieked, standing up in a flash. "That's not--what--it's none of your business!"
"I started the rumor myself," Gippal said proudly, standing up as well. "Told all the right people. Like Ms. Makuro. Now Vice Principle Lesky is looking into it--I told her--and Ms. Makuro is pissed at Coach, and everyone knows he has the hots for her, so--" Rikku shoved him, hard, her face hot. "Huh?"
"Shut up." Her face burning, she couldn't even look him in the eyes. "I can't believe you would--"
"...I was trying to help," Gippal said, exasperated. "Don't you get it? Now that everyone knows, Coach'll have to make up with you, treat you decent. And you won't have to--"
"SHUT UP!" Rikku shrieked, tears filling her eyes. "That's not how--you're--" she didn't know what to say, let alone how to word it. She shoved past the confused boy and ran out of the gym.
x x x