DAY 4 – THURSDAY
Squall was using his break to nap on the couch, or at least rest himself, with Angelo below him. This was, of course, ruined by his girlfriend's entrance. She was playfully holding a box of kitchen knives. Squall twisted around sleepily from his position on the couch.
"What do we have knives for?" he half-mumbled.
"It's a wedding gift, silly."
"What do we need knives for? Oh." Rinoa's response didn't register in his head faster than his mouth could output. He was still half-asleep.
"I was thinking we could split it."
Squall raised his eyebrow.
"How much was it?"
Squall was mildly offset. He hadn't agreed to get a wedding gift. And he hadn't agreed to give this gift. In fact, Rinoa hadn't talked about this with him at all. But he realized he actually hadn't thought of getting a gift at all and realized that he should have. Plus, he hated shopping. And this was more convenient.
"Come on, tightwad," Rinoa chided, watching the wheels in Squall's head turn.
"All right, that's fine." Strategically, and for the sake of convenience, he decided to go along with it. Part of being a leader was choosing your battles. Although he wouldn't have picked knives as a wedding present, he really didn't have any other ideas. Selphie and Irvine were going to need a lot more than that in their future life. Knives were going to be a luxury. They needed more basic things like tables, places to sit, baby stuff. Babies were especially expensive, and added to the normal cost of living.
Squall shook off the fatigue and got off the couch, moving to the kitchen counter to look at the box for his pseudo-approval. "Didn't you get knives for some other wedding present one time?"
"Sure, it's my favorite present to give. Everyone needs knives when they're just starting out." Squall had karmic visions of six boxes of knives as presents for their wedding. "Plus, I got it 30% off."
"I wouldn't put that on the card."
"Oh, the card," Rinoa lightly slapped her hand on the table. "I forgot. Shoot, do you want to help me get that one this weekend?"
Squall, of course, didn't want to. He hated shopping in the first place, and he needed a rest from this flurry of activity happening around the Garden that seemed to be localized in his group of friends. But Rinoa would want to spend time with him this weekend anyway.
"All right," he said nonchalantly as he went back to the couch and laid down, picking up a newspaper on the coffee table.
"Good, we need to pick up wrapping paper too." She took the box of knives and set them in an out of the way place in the kitchen. "So me and Selphie were talking about how you guys are gonna catch the garter."
Squall's eyes popped open. Oh, god, I forgot about that. Oh no.
Rinoa continued, "So we were thinking how just about none of you are gonna go for it. Since there's only gonna be four or five unmarried guys there and how all the girls are gonna practically be falling over themselves to get it." She laughed to herself. "We're all gonna be getting in shape," she said, flexing her arms.
"Are you even listening to me?" she whined.
Rinoa tapped her fingers on the counter where Squall couldn't see, nor cared to, thinking of what to do. She haughtily walked over to the couch and pulled down the paper from his eyes. "Squall, what's wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong," he said straightly.
"You have been tight-lipped since I told you about what was happening."
Squall remained tight-lipped and said nothing.
Rinoa continued, "It's like you've reverted back to your old self."
"I just have nothing to say."
"Wrong, you've got plenty to say. I know you do. But you don't say it. That's the problem. You're upset about this, I know you are. I know that your injury didn't come from a funguar." She pointed to his hands.
"It's from a funguar. I was there. And I'm not upset."
"Then what is your opinion?"
"I have no opinion."
"The hell you don't. Everyone has an opinion. What is it?"
"I have none."
"Tell me, I wanna hear it."
"I have no opinion."
"I have no opinion," he said, a little sterner, not losing his temper. "I have nothing to say, because I have no opinion."
Rinoa was starting to feel like she was talking to a brick Squall. She stood up and crossed her arms. "You have something to say, Squall. I wish you would say it."
"I have nothing to say. It's not my place to make a judgment."
They stared at each other for a few seconds, a stare that meant a stalemate, neither of them budging from their positions, but not backing down either. That thing about judgment had just clued Rinoa in more, and she was too stubborn not to find out what it was.
Squall, however, used a different tactic. He put his newspaper back on the coffee table and stood up. "I've got some work I need to do." His break apparently over, he exited the apartment, though Rinoa knew he would be back in time for dinner.
With the clanging of the door, Rinoa had the incredible urge to pout, but what would be the point when there was no one there to hear her. She sat down at the kitchen counter and stared up at the calendar near the door, looking at the last two weeks. She couldn't even sigh. She felt empty, the feeling you get from not winning an argument, but no closure from losing it either. No resolution about whether you were right or wrong. She was frustrated, and even starting to feel sorry for her own gossiping. Maybe she was just making a mountain out of a molehill, and it wasn't doing anything but making Squall mad at her. Maybe she should just write it off as Squall being Squall.
Suddenly, the phone rang. Rinoa jerked her head towards it, and walked the steps into the living room to pick it up.
"Hello. This is Cyan Aldridge with the Balamb Train Station."
"Uh, this is regarding this bill for the train car we received on Tuesday. We were hoping we could arrange a payment now."
"Payment?" Rinoa asked. She thought SeeDs already had a contract with the train stations about payments and such. She figured that sort of thing would be arranged through Garden. "I think you might have the wrong number. You might want Garden accounting."
"Ah..." Rinoa could hear papers being shuffled over the phone. "This is the number that was on the reparation form. I was told this is a separate bill regarding the damages received."
"Damages received?" What was she talking about? "What sort of damages?"
"Um, it says here the occupant's car, the SeeD cabin, had the bed mattresses and frames broken. The wall panel was crushed, with wiring ripped out in some areas. Some upholstery damage to the couch, couch cushions. And planter being destroyed."
WHAT? "What caused that?" Rinoa suppressed her urge to shout and scream into the receiver.
"It... doesn't say. Just that occupant was willing to pay for all damages, and to use this number to call him to arrange payment."
Rinoa bit her lip. "Um, I think you'll have to call back later. He's not here right now."
"All right. When would the best time be to call back?"
"In the evening," Rinoa said as she suppressed hyperventilating.
"Okay, thank you."
Rinoa placed the phone on the receiver.
That couldn't have been Squall. It couldn't have. Broken beds? Crushed wall paneling? It sounded more like a caterchipillar had gotten loose in the room, than her boyfriend. She didn't want to believe it, but there wasn't a shred of evidence that didn't point to him. Squall was on a train Monday night, Tuesday morning. He would have been in the SeeD cabin. He would have given them his private phone number to prevent Garden hearing about this, to keep his indiscretion quiet. So they wouldn't see that he had... what had he done? What in the world was going on?
Xu typed delicately, but fast, on her computer, tabulating the monthly budgeting, paying particular attention to the Garden Festival. Secretarial duties for the headmaster included administrative leave, personnel archives, communication skills, and mostly financial records. Gil for Garden was stretched tighter than a rubber band, with money needing to be allocated for school supplies, the garage, even the food budget was skimpy. Xu hoped that Selphie could make do with a lot of streamers.
Zell's body rose from the floor in the elevator. Xu peeked out her eyes from her computer, then went back to filing until he came up to his desk. "Afternoon, Zell," she said cheerfully. "Do you have an appointment with Cid?"
Zell embarrassedly put his hand behind his head and scratched. "Uh, no, actually, I came to see you." He stared down at the floor. "See, the other day, when you and me and Squall were talking at the door. I thought, I don't know. I hope you weren't mad at me."
Xu stifled a laugh, "Of course I wasn't mad at you. Why would I be?"
"Well, I know, but was there was just something about the way you reacted when I was talking about Irvine and how they're gonna be different now, and I thought about it and thought about it and I slept on it. And, well, I just wanted to make sure we're cool."
Xu nodded and decided something resolutely. Zell was a good friend, he deserved better than just saying everything was all right. And besides, this might help her purge some of her feelings. She pushed out of her chair, stood up, walked around her desk, transferring from secretary mode to friend mode. She leaned up against it and sighed, hugging herself with her arms. "This news hit everyone pretty hard, didn't it?"
"Yeah, kind of a bombshell."
"No one had any idea this was happening."
"Yeah, not even Irvine. He was just being his usual flirty self."
"Yeah, he was charming. Or is, still." Xu didn't want to talk about him like he was dead. "When Selphie wasn't around... or sometimes when she was around and they weren't so... together... Irvine would come down to hang with us girls - me, Quistis, and Rinoa. There were a lot of times we'd stay up late, just talking. We all had a lot of good heart-to-hearts, shared a lot. It was fun. He was like one of us." She sighed. "I don't know. Sometimes, I thought we were closer to him than Selphie."
"So you were getting close to Irvine?"
"I thought so. I don't think that Irvine wants to marry Selphie, he's just sort of settling, cause it's the right thing to do. Otherwise, it wouldn't have been so off and on, don't you think?"
"Well, I don't know." Zell had the mind of a fighter, not a lover. "There's a lot I don't know about relationships."
"But I guess we'll never know now." Xu turned and went back to her desk. She pulled out a drawer and took an envelope out. Breathing deeply, she held it up to Zell. The word 'IRVINE' was written on it in red marker.
"See this? I was going to put this under Irvine's door, since he was gone, but you and Squall were there, so I couldn't." Xu thought briefly about the next thing she was going to say. "It's a love confession, I just felt like I had to get it all out of my system." Zell snapped his head back in reaction. "Now I'm really glad you guys were there. It prevented me from doing something really stupid. So, thanks."
"You're welcome," Zell was more confused then ever, but he was still a little proud of doing something nice. He was clearly taken aback though. He had no idea Xu had those kind of feelings for Irvine. But the more he thought about it, Irvine did have that sort of charm that drew the ladies to him. That kind of charm Zell wished he could get in the store. It was no wonder that one of them would fall for him as a result. "I had no idea that you liked him... in that way."
"Nobody really did, except for Quistis and Rinoa," Xu continued. "The more I thought about it yesterday, the more I realized that it wouldn't have worked anyway. It was just a stupid schoolgirl thing, just one last chance to try and tell him how I really feel, but that's all gone now. The last thing he needs is one more burden. I think I'm going to miss the friendship we had more."
"Yeah, me too. I guess this is affecting us all, in all different ways. I didn't realize how important this was to all of us."
"Well, I sorta did, but now it's out in the open. It's going to be hard on all of us when they walk down that aisle."
"Yeah," Zell scratched the back of his head again. "Say, do you have a date for the wedding?"
"Um, I'm actually going with Nida." Xu had already heard of Zell's quest to get a date, including the cashier incident, and hated to decline him.
"Oh," Zell said as he swallowed nervously.
"Yeah, he's also doing some photography and he needs a van to carry his stuff around in."
"Don't worry, Zell, you'll get a date," she said as she chucked him on the shoulder.
"Yeah, I hope so."
These forms of Selphie's were getting to be a hassle. Squall swore that she filled them out incorrectly just to get him to talk with her, so he had to try and pry out the information he needed to have. The sloppy handwriting wasn't helping either. Plus, waiting till the last minute to send them in. Plus, having to correct her mistakes. Plus, knowing she would just make them all over again in the future when she forgot.
Squall headed for the quad, where he knew she would be, setting up for the Garden Festival. It seemed like she was in a perpetual state of setting up the Garden Festival, trying to make each year bigger and better than before, locked in a Sisyphusian state of the same activity for all time.
It looked like she had gotten a few more helpers this time too, as Squall shuffled down the stairs. A few students were painting pieces of wood covered in white spackled drop cloths. A skeletal stage was set under a large metal and wood scaffolding that stretched to the ceiling. Squall craned his neck up and saw Selphie's yellow dress hanging off the edge, where she was lying on her back painting something.
"Selphie!" Squall shouted alarmingly. "Get down from there!"
Selphie nearly fell off the platform as she peered over the side where an angry Squall was watching her. She put her brush down and climbed down the piping, jumping the last step.
"It's not safe up there," Squall said before Selphie had fully approached him. "You have to have more sense than that."
"I was fine," she dismissed. "I was careful climbing."
Squall flashed back to when she tumbled down a hill on their first SeeD mission, trying to deliver a message. Yeah, I bet you were.
Squall chose not to pursue arguing and stuck to matters at hand. He held up the 8 1/2 by 11s in his hand. "There's a problem on your requisition forms for the festival. You can't use the dormitory hallway as a refreshment area."
"Because that's a fire hazard. And there's going to be people in the dorms who want to get back and forth without being blocked."
"Well, why aren't they coming to the festival? Everyone should come to Garden Festival," she quipped merrily.
"Not everyone should come to Garden Festival. Not everyone wants to come to Garden Festival," Squall said dryly. "Also, you cannot use the Star Room."
"What? But that's where we were going to have the costume ball."
"That room is going to be under renovation for the new infirmary by the time festival gets started. It was on the allocation sheet for this year."
"But, Squall, it's a costume ball. We've never had one. Don't you think it would be so cool? Jerry thought of it. We have to have one this year. I was gonna dress up as a tonberry."
"Not unless you find another room."
Selphie sighed and drooped down, rolling her eyes. "Fine, oh well, we'll do it next year."
"You're not going to be here next year."
"What? Of course I will."
"Next year you're going to have a child, remember?"
"I'll still be able to do some things."
"And Garden Festival is not one of them. Because only people in Garden get to have a Garden Festival, and you're not going to be here."
"I can still do things just fine with a child. Other people can. I could do it part-time."
"Part-time? SeeD is not a part-time job." Squall nearly dropped his papers as he flung his arm out in anger. "You're mom now. You're that and nothing else. Your career as a SeeD is over. All that work you ever did was for nothing. You can't be a SeeD when you've got a baby to take care of. You now have a full-time dedication to this baby and if you think that you'll be able to come back to SeeD after that then you're not thinking very well. You are responsible for that thing."
"Are you saying you're not going to let me come back to SeeD?"
"It's not in Garden's best interest to let you back. Every SeeD here is expected to be sharpened to a razor's edge at all times in case they get called for duty. Exactly how are you going to do that when you're pregnant? Or even after? Would you send a mother out into the Centra Ruins?"
"I think that's a little unfair."
"I don't care. Rules are rules. You messed up, not me."
Squall was beginning to grow red in the face. He was not yelling, but those in the sound of his voice slowed action to a standstill to eavesdrop as Squall lashed out. As far as the commander was concerned his universe only contained himself and her now. Selphie was like a candle in a dark room to Squall.
"You have to take the consequences for your actions. And not only did you take yourself out from the roster, but Irvine along with you. What kind of father is he going to be if he's a mercenary? Having to go off at long periods on a moment's notice. Risking his life repeatedly. Personally, I think he should quit SeeD too, but unfortunately, there is no rule stating you can't be a SeeD and a father at the same time."
There was no rule because no one ever had been a SeeD and father at the same time. SeeDs were too young for planned marriages and children and their careers were foremost on their minds. Squall hadn't thought of it before, but he wasn't just losing one good SeeD, he was losing two.
"You just had to have your little fling with him so you could ensnare him and keep him forever. That's why you let him have his way with you. Now you're stuck with him forever. You will never be without him and you will never be without his child. Don't act like you're a victim, you could have used birth control. And god knows why you didn't when you were doing what you were doing. Instead you just succumbed to your carnal desires." Squall was starting to say things that the back of his mind told him he'd regret later. His rationality started to poke through and Squall turned around to leave before he said anything else improper, but he looked back at her over his shoulder. "Of all the people in the world I thought you two would be smarter than that."
Selphie stood locked in place, staring at the back of his body. For one of the few times in her life, she was speechless.