“I think Gina Jud is the hottest of all the seniors.”
“Nah, she’s too brainy. And she talks too much. But wow man, she is hot. “
Gina stopped in her tracks. She blushed a deep red and turned around, trying to avoid the jocks. She turned towards the cafeteria feeling very self-conscious, but then quickly forgot them.
She couldn’t really believe this was her very last day; that after the prom tonight, she would never be a school-girl again. Ever. She would be a freshman. A college girl. A college-woman. She liked the sound of that, but being a woman scared her too. Thank God Julian invited me to the prom, she thought as she entered the cafeteria where the girls stormed her. It was time to sign yearbooks.
Her dad picked her up in his old clunker, his beloved lime green Chevrolet Impala, a sixteen feet long behemoth of the automotive industry that her dad loved as much as he loved his studio. The car backfired and billowed black smoke, but everyone knew Jeremiah and his Impala, and Gina stopped being embarrassed a long time ago. She loved her dad so much. She kissed him on the cheek but he just smiled and puffed on his pipe as they slowly drove the fifteen miles from Chesterfield High to the Boinfontaine Plantation.
“All set for the big night?”
“I still have to finish my dress. I have to take in some seams. And I have to wash my hair. Oh my God, I’ll never get it all done for tonight. I wish mom was here today. I miss her so much” Gina’s voice betrayed a deep sadness, a longing to go back to see her mom just one more time.
“I miss her too honey. Every day. Every hour.”
“How long has it been daddy?”
“Nine years, seven months, four days and sixteen hours” he answered without looking up. “She died Tuesday, March the twenty first, 2009, at one in the morning. They didn’t call me before the Wednesday afternoon.” His voice broke, and he relit his pipe.
“I love you daddy” Gina said in bit of a girlie voice.
Jeremiah just smiled, stroked her cheek, and puffed his pipe. He didn’t talk very much anymore.
“Can you drop me here? I want to go and thank Mrs. Boinfontaine one more time before I leave. Please dad? I’ll come back before three, straight through the fields and across the swinging bridge? Promise.”
She watched the old jalopy jiggle over the rough terrain and waited until her dad disappeared around the bend. She turned and walked up the majestic tunnel of giant oak trees that lined the cobblestone road towards the magnificent Georgian-styled mansion with its multiple Palladian-inspired side wings. Her heart fluttered.
Bianca Boinfontaine excited her. She was beautiful and glamorous and she spoke to Gina like nobody else ever spoke to her. With kindness, Gina thought, at a loss for a more appropriate word to describe her benefactor.
Bianca was outside, cutting some long stemmed red roses in her nursery.
“They smell so lovely” Gina said as she approached Bianca.
Bianca turned. She smiled. A warm authentic smile that said “I am so very, very happy to see you Gina.”
“Gina, darling. What a surprise.”
The big busted blonde matron hugged Gina. “Let me look at you child. You look wonderful.” They had iced tea on the large verandah overlooking the nursery despite Gina’s protestations.
“I wanted to say thank you again. For the scholarship. It is so very generous of you, I just don’t know what to say, how to thank you?”
“Think nothing of it child. I am glad to help. When I saw you that night, alone in the forest, dancing and playing.”
Gina looked at her, waiting for Bianca to continue.
“Some of us, people like us, we live in a different world don’t we? I know that you can see them too darling. You have the gift, just like my grandmother had. It’s something – something that happens to those who really love Boinfontaine. It’s a great gift dear, but great gifts come with great responsibilities too. You need to come back here after you graduate. You have to find your purpose. You have to fulfill your purpose. Great things will happen when you do.” Bianca’s hands trembled, and she reached for a gold case and lit a cigarette, exhaling the smoke through her nose. “Now go. Go to the city, but remember. Boinfontaine will not rest before you come back. Your purpose is waiting for you.”
Gina ran. She ran all the way past the fields, across the swinging bridge, and she didn’t stop before she reached the giant swamp chestnut oak tree. She felt scared. Bianca Boinfontaine now scared her. She shivered. Seeing them, the dead people, suddenly felt like a huge burden to her. Gina was confused, and for the first time in her life, she considered the possibility that she might suffer from the same mental illness that took her mom away from her. She called out to Annie, and Manfred, but neither of – them – appeared.
Jeremiah opened a very old bottle of port after Gina left for the prom with her date. He felt strangely sad, and proud. Who would have imagined that Jeremiah Jud could produce such a vivacious young woman he wondered. “Here’s to you darling” he toasted his wife, Margie, and refilled his glass. He was fast asleep on the old Chesterfield couch in his studio when Gina returned.
“What’s wrong with you Gina?” Julian scowled, trying to keep his voice down.
“Nothing. I don’t know. You won’t understand.” Gina sobbed once or twice before regaining her composure. “Nothing. I was just playing. Having fun.”
“You have a strange way of having fun don’t you. Were you drunk?”
Gina didn’t answer. She just stared at Julian with a hurt expression.
“How else can anyone – me included – explain your behavior. So you speak to yourself. You dance with an invisible guy. And you chase a dog that doesn’t exist. And you laugh at jokes – when no one made any jokes. Jeez Gina. You made me look redundant. And ridiculous. Whatever. I have to go.”
Gina stayed outside after Julian left, and she took a seat on the rickety old wooden bench next to the front door.
“I’m sorry Gina.”
“I’m sorry too Gina.”
“It’s not your fault Manfred, nor yours little Annie. We had fun didn’t we?”
“We spoiled your dance for you, didn’t we?”
“Don’t be silly. We had to say goodbye too, didn’t we?” Gina answered placidly.
“Are you going away forever?” Annie asked.
“Forever is a very long time darling Annie.”