Chapter 16: Goodbye and Good Luck
I was surprised at first at how easily everyone in the family accepted the change in Jake and my relationship. But it didn't take long for me to realize that Dad must have seen it coming. He'd known about Jake's love long before I had, and obviously accepted it. They'd all just been waiting for the inevitable, and I was the child finally waking up to the reality. I wasn't angry about it anymore, though. How could I be upset when, for me, growing up meant stepping into a fairy tale of true love? Most girls had to give up the dream of a prince charming when they got older. My prince was not only real, he'd been waiting for me patiently for years, and our happily ever after could go on forever.
The kiss Jake and I shared in the forest changed how I felt about him, and how I felt about myself. I even found myself walking differently. Loving Jake also made it slightly easier to live up to the promise I had made to my family: that I would never reveal that I loved George.
But, still, my feelings for George didn't just disappear. We remained friends. We still worked together on our normal assignments for Chemistry class. When our work was done each day, we talked about our college plans - mine fictional, his real. Every once in a while, we would whisper our name to each other in Hungarian, him thinking I couldn't hear him, me knowing he couldn't hear me.
Jake understood that I still loved George, which made me love Jake even more. I couldn't believe how lucky I was to have two such extraordinary people in my life. Though I couldn't be completely honest about my feelings to George, I didn't have to hide anything from my best friend, now my boyfriend, my soul mate, Jake.
It took me by surprise when George approached me as I was waiting for a ride home one sunny afternoon. "Where are your brothers and sisters?" the familiar voice said from behind me. I turned and looked into George's brown eyes, which were uncharacteristically bright and excited. I got lost for a moment in his gaze, and didn't respond at first. The rest of my family was hiding from the dazzling weather, and I had convinced them that I could be trusted to go to school by myself. Jake was happy enough to chauffeur me and would be pulling up on his motorcycle any second.
"Oh," was my brilliant attempt at stalling. "They all had food poisoning. Luckily I'm the only one who hates sushi." I tried to make it sound like a joke, and George shared one of his rare and brilliant smiles with me and my breath caught. "You look happy today," I noted.
"I just got some good news," he said.
"What was it?" I asked, feigning innocence, though I was pretty sure I knew what he was going to say.
"I got a full scholarship to Dartmouth!" he exclaimed, and I beamed with him. "There was an alum from Eastern Europe who set up a special fund for anyone who was born outside of the U.S."
"That's great! But I'm sure you could have gotten any scholarship." I gave him one of my mock punches on the shoulder, my fingers tingled at the contact. "I told you not to be upset about getting honorable mention at Siemens."
His smile faltered a little at the reminder of that near miss, but only for a moment. "Do you know where you're going, yet?" His good mood had clearly made him more sociable. He hardly ever tried this hard to engage in a conversation, even after all the time we had spent together.
"Yes," I said. I heard the distant familiar hum of a motorcycle taking a turn with reckless speed, but kept talking, even though I knew I should wrap up the conversation. "I'll be going to U Cal. I thought a big school would be best since I'm not really sure what I want to major in." And, I thought silently, might as well say I'll be going across country to a sunny state. In truth, the family was going back to Alaska, where Grampa Carlisle's old hospital was waiting to take him back after his sabbatical. All part of the original plan. My first foray into the human world was for one year only. I was sad to see high school come to an end, but in some ways looking forward to not having to pretend all the time.
"Wow," he said. "So far away. We should make sure we have each others..." he trailed off and his eyes grew large as the roar of a motorcycle grew louder, and I turned my head at the sound of screeching brakes.
"Hey, Ness!" Jake called. He straddled the bike carelessly, wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, looking like a russet skinned version of James Dean with far more muscles. The girls that were hanging around on the sidewalk all stared with their mouths hanging open, and the boys were looking from Jake to me with frustrated expressions.
"Who's that?" George asked. He looked like he had before we were about to go on stage at the competition, like he was going to be physically ill.
"Umm..." I realized there was no reason to soften the blow, and really no way to do so even if I wanted to. "That's my boyfriend, Jake. He's my ride today."
"Oh," said George. He looked at Jake. Jake stared back, smiling at both of us and perfectly at ease. It wasn't very often I was irritated with him, but I wished at that moment that he was a little more like George: shy and uncertain of himself. But when Jake nodded subtly to me, encouraging me to take as much time as I needed, smiling his good natured smile, I was glad that he was exactly who he was.
"I guess you'd better go," said George. The disappointment in his voice broke my heart.
"Yeah, I've got to go check on the sick ward at my house." I smiled, trying to lighten the mood. I couldn't bear to walk away from George while he was in this state of mind. "I hope you have something better planned for the rest of your day. Are you and your family celebrating the news?"
He shrugged and I wanted to cry for the look on his face. I guessed that there wouldn't be much of a celebration at all. I also realized this might be one of the last times we really talked to each other. Graduation was only a few short weeks away, and he seemed to be reverting before my eyes to the anti-social version of himself that he was around most everyone but me. Though I knew it was a mistake, that both of us would regret it later, I had to do something.
"I'll be there in a second, Jake," I called, then turned back to my friend and my first love. I threw my arms around George in a big hug before he could see it coming and shield himself from my affection. "Sveretlek" I said clearly, right into his ear. He stiffened in my arms and stopped breathing for a second.
"What did you say?" he gasped as I pulled away. His expression was shocked, yet happy. I hoped that a small part of him believed the literal truth of my words and not the cover story I had to give him next.
"Good luck," I replied. "Sveretlek - Did I remember it right?"
His eyes clouded for a moment, and I could see the memory of that afternoon in the competition, along with all the other hours we had spent together, every word that passed between us run through his mind. He pulled off something like a smile, but I could tell how difficult it was. I was struggling just as hard to keep my own phony grin in place.
"Perfect," he replied. "That sounded perfect."
"Thanks for teaching me," I said, then added "I'll never forget anything I learned from you, George. I owe you a lot."
He shrugged his usual dismissal of praise. "I'm sure you could have done it on your own." He looked away before continuing, "I'm sorry I ever doubted that."
I laughed at the memory of that first class and his assumption that I would only want to copy his work. I had been so sure there was nothing this silly human boy knew that I didn't. "I definitely couldn't have done it on my own, George," I replied. He still wasn't looking at me. "Hey," I said, tapping his arm in a playful way. "Do me a favor, okay?"
"What?" he asked, finally facing me again.
"When you're at college, telling all the new people you meet about all the brilliant things you've done," his eyebrows raised in protest, but I continued, "leave out that your partner in the Siemens competition was a spoiled brat."
"I'd never talk about you that way," he said, seriously.
I smiled. "And I'll tell everyone I got extremely lucky on my first day of senior year and got an empty seat next to the best Chemistry partner on the planet. I tell Jake how awesome you are all the time."
For some reason that made him look a little afraid. He started and looked back at Jake. I did the same and wondered what I'd said wrong. Jake's easy smile was still in place, but I could see by the tension in his shoulders he was getting impatient. The school parking lot was emptying out.
"Goodbye, George," I said.
"Goodbye, Nessie," he replied.
I walked away and quickened my pace as I got closer to Jake. He opened his arms and I fell into them, even though he was still on the bike. He patted my hair gently and nuzzled my neck, then whispered, "You okay, hon?"
I pulled back and took the helmet that was hanging from his handlebars. "Yeah," I said. "I just wanted to say goodbye and wish him luck." Jake nodded and I got on behind him, wrapping my arms around him tightly.
My heart was only half human, so I had no way of knowing if it were possible for anyone else to feel like this. Perhaps no one else could hold in their hearts both the pain of lost love and the joy of requited love at the same moment the way my half-vampire heart beat out the rhythm of joy and pain. I felt both extremely lonely and extremely lucky.
Jake kicked the bike to life and we speeded away. I watched the image of George grow smaller in the tiny mirror clipped to the handlebars until he disappeared from vision. As sure as I was that I would be with Jake forever, that I would love him completely forever, there was also a part of me that would love someone else, even after he no longer existed.