I didn’t bother ringing the doorbell as we made our way up Katie’s porch; I just opened the door and let myself in. I heard voices coming from the kitchen, so Ethan and I walked down the hallway to see what was going on.
I could feel the eyes of all of my friends on the two of us as I walked into the kitchen ahead of Ethan, and I shot them all a warning look.
“Hey guys, come on in.” Katie waved the two of us over to where the girls were gathered around the island in her kitchen.
Luke and Ryan stood by Katie’s back patio door. “Ethan, you’re just in time, we were about to check out my baby,” Luke said. Ethan glanced from them to me and raised an eyebrow.
“His car,” I explained.
“Not just any car; a 1963 Lincoln Continental convertible. I’ve been working on it for two years now, and I almost have it up and running.” Luke’s voice grew animated as he slid the back door open and headed for Katie’s parents old driving shed, where he stored the vehicle.
“Sounds good.” Ethan followed the two guys outside, throwing me a smile over his shoulder as he went.
As soon as the guys were gone, Kristen, Heather and Katie pounced on me.
“So …” Kristen sidled up beside me and jostled me with her arm.
“What?” I looked from one to the other, keeping my expression as innocent as I could.
“Come on, details. How was the drive over?” Katie leaned in across the island and rocked back and forth on her elbows.
“It was fine.” I glanced towards the driving shed.
“Fine? That’s all you have for us?” Heather crossed her arms.
“We drove, we talked. It wasn’t exactly earth shattering. I managed not to act like a complete moron, so that’s an accomplishment, I guess.” I traced a line in the granite of the island.
“Okay, but he’s here. Obviously the guy is feeling all warm and fuzzy towards you. I mean, he’s gotten awfully friendly, awfully fast.” Kristen grinned.
“Friendly, that’s the key word. We’re just friends.” I reached for a bag of chips.
Katie grabbed a couple of bowls out of a cupboard and handed one to me. “I don’t know about that, Hanns. It’s like all of a sudden he’s gone from some random new guy in the hall to walking you to class, and chauffeuring you around.”
“He only gave me a ride because you pushed him into it.” I ripped the bag of chips open in exasperation and dumped them into the bowl.
“And you’re glad I did, aren’t you?” Katie shot back.
A small smile crept across my lips. “That’s beside the point. Ethan said he wanted to be friends, and so far that’s all his behavior is suggesting.” My eyes darted towards the driving shed. The guys were closing the door. “Now drop it, they’re coming back.”
“Hanns, can I just say your man Ethan is insanely knowledgeable of old cars.” Luke came back through the patio door, holding up grease-covered hands toward Katie who squealed and pushed him towards the sink.
My cheeks warmed. “That’s nice.” I avoided Ethan’s gaze.
“Seriously Hanns, he makes Luke look like a complete amateur.” Ryan nodded enthusiastically.
“Thanks guy.” Luke made a face at him.
“Who cares about cars, let’s get this movie going. You said it’s about college guys, didn’t you?” Kristen jumped off the barstool. I was grateful for the subject change. I didn’t need Ethan thinking I told my friends he was somehow attached to me.
After going down to the basement, we joked around for a while before putting on the movie. Ryan and Luke tossed around a football, likely trying to impress Ethan with their athletic prowess, until Ryan missed and the ball knocked a lamp off the end table. Ethan quickly reached out and caught it before it smashed to the ground.
“Whoa, quick reflexes,” Luke observed, clearly awed by Ethan’s incredible catch.
“Sports camp,” Ethan replied humbly, as he set the lamp back on the table.
“You really should’ve tried out for football. The team is weak.” Ryan shook his head.
“I’m not looking to get into all that right now.” Ethan shrugged.
We settled in to watch the movie. I ended up in the middle of Katie’s couch, with Ethan on one side and Ryan on the other. As soon as the movie was playing and the lights were off, Ryan did the whole fake yawn, putting his arm around me thing. I immediately removed it and punched him in the shoulder, but I hoped that the action hadn’t inadvertently given Ethan some sort of sign about the type of relationship Ryan and I had, or given him the impression I wasn’t interested in physical contact. I was just glad Ryan hadn’t mentioned our impending date, especially now that I hoped to be able to get out of it somehow.
Ryan had brought some movie from the 1990’s about a skull and bones type of secret society. We all took turns heckling the acting, clothes, and plot. Very aware of how close my hand was to Ethan’s; I kept glancing over at him from the corner of my eye while he remained focused on the television screen. He seemed perfectly content to sit back and enjoy the antics of my friends.
When the movie ended, we hung out until almost midnight. Finally I got up off the couch and stretched “I should get going, I have a shift at The Patch tomorrow morning.”
“Sounds good.” Ethan followed my lead and stood up.
My friends and I all made our way back upstairs. Ethan held my jacket for me, which got raised eyebrows from Kristen and Heather and a devious smile from Katie, but I just shot them a warning look and followed Ethan out the door.
“So, those are my friends,” I remarked, as we got into his Jeep and drove back to my house.
“They were a lot of fun; I had a good time.” Ethan flashed me a smile.
“I’m glad. They really are great, the best friends anyone could ask for.” I meant it. As much as they liked to tease me, I was glad to have them; they would always look out for me in any situation.
“It’s nice to have a solid group of friends. I’ve moved around so much I can’t say that I have a lot of close people in my life like you do. It was nice to be part of that for one evening; it felt … normal.” Was that sadness in Ethan’s voice? His expression was unreadable so I couldn’t be sure.
“Why have you moved so much?” I tried to sound casual, although I was eager to learn more about him.
Ethan studied me for a second, like he was trying to figure out how to explain his situation. His hesitation made me even more curious to find out about his home life. “My father’s in sales, so we never stay in the same place for too long,” Ethan replied, but the explanation sounded forced.
“What kind of sales?” My heart sank. Could Ethan end up moving away before anything had a chance to develop between us?
“So, do you get all kinds of free stuff?” We were almost to my house.
“Yeah, he’s a generous man,” Ethan replied, a sincerity in his voice that had been missing from his earlier responses.
“So, how long do you think you’ll be in East Halton then?” I held my breath. Please say indefinitely.
“As long as there’s a job to do, Dad will be here.” My eyebrows rose when he paused before the word dad.
“So it’s sort of up in the air?” I looked over at him, watching him closely.
“That’s probably the best way to describe it. For now there are no plans to move on, but I’m sure someday I’ll be on my way again.” The sad tone was in his voice again, and I thought back to the day we had met and the sorrow I had detected in his gaze.
He pulled into my driveway and we sat in the shadowy darkness of the vehicle. I fiddled with my seatbelt strap, hesitant to undo it. I knew I should get out of the Jeep and call it a night, but now that I had Ethan opening up and talking about himself, I didn’t want the evening to end.
Ethan kept the engine running; I wasn’t sure if that was because he was in a hurry to leave, or if he was trying to keep the heat in so we wouldn’t get cold from the chilly October night air.
“Do you have an accent?” I’d been wanting to ask him after hearing it come through every once in a while in his voice. English maybe, or possibly Scottish or Irish like Carmen had said, but it was only at the ends of certain words, and not all the time. Had his father’s job taken him not only across the country but around the world?
“What a funny question.” Ethan’s lips curved into a smile.
“It’s just that my mom’s parents moved to America from Scotland when she was a little girl. Even though she lost most of her accent, every once in a while it would come through, and you seem to have the same sort of thing. A sometimes accent.” Was I babbling too much?
Ethan looked at me for a moment with a strange expression; like he was surprised I would have noticed something like that about him. “My parents immigrated to America from Ireland when I was young. Growing up listening to their accents, I guess my sister and I picked them up as well, although I thought I’d lost that part of myself a long time ago.” Ethan’s voice drifted, as though he was lost in a memory.
It was odd to hear him talk about his childhood as though it had been lifetimes ago, rather than just a few years. It made me wonder if some sort of incident had occurred in his life that had forced him to grow up quickly.
“I didn’t realize you had a sister. Does she go to East Halton
too?” I was intrigued by the mention of a sibling. This was the first Ethan had spoken of his family. I hadn’t noticed any new girls at school, but if she was in a different grade it was possible I could have missed her.
“No, she’s gone … to college.” Ethan’s eyes were dark and full of pain. Immediately I knew that the underlying sadness was connected to her. She obviously wasn’t in college, but he clearly didn’t want to talk about it.
“I see.” I nodded slowly, letting him get away with the lie for now.
The spark that I’d felt between us earlier on the porch flickered again. Opening up to me about his family seemed to be a big deal for Ethan, and it was creating an intimacy between us that made my heart beat faster and my palms sweat.
I found myself studying his mouth. Those perfect lips. His breathing had sped up, and he leaned in. Kiss me Ethan, do it. I swallowed hard, about to close the gap between us, but then he turned away. “I should walk you to your house.” He pushed open the driver’s side door, breaking the tension.
I sighed as we got out of the vehicle. It had been a confusing ten minutes, between the way Ethan had been talking about his family, and how he acted towards me. Every time a moment appeared to be developing between us, he would put a quick end to it before I could know for sure if something was going on. It was very frustrating.
“Thanks again for letting me hang out with your friends this evening; I had a lot of fun.” Ethan stood at the top of the steps while I unlocked the front door and pushed it open. I rested my hand on the doorknob and turned back to him. His tone was light and casual. Whatever had been going on in the Jeep was clearly over now.
“I’m glad. I guess I’ll see you later then.”
“Later,” he echoed and started back down the stairs. I’d been hoping he might suggest hanging out over the weekend, but he seemed content to leave it.
I waited until he got back to his vehicle then gave a small wave and walked inside. I shut the door behind me and slumped against it as I tried again to wrap my mind around the confusing Ethan Flynn.
As I pushed away from the door and started up the stairs, I realized my cell phone had been off all night. I turned it on to see two messages waiting for me.
The first was Mazy Jones returning my call. She said she would be happy to talk to me, although my name didn’t sound familiar to her so she doubted she would be able to give me much information. I checked the time on my phone. It was just after midnight, far too late to call her back; I would call in the morning before I went to work.
The second message was from Katie, saying we absolutely needed to talk about the night. She must have called as Ethan and I were pulling out of her driveway. I smiled to myself. How would she react when I told her about our moment in the car?
I went to bed replaying the evening’s events, trying to convince my head and heart that Ethan and I were just friends. I was having trouble not reading into every action. Ethan Flynn obviously had something more going on in his life than the average high school student.
I rolled over to turn off the light and noticed a note in my Dad’s handwriting propped against the lamp base. He had talked to Rupert and wanted me to know I should be prepared to leave next week. I frowned as I lay back down and stared up at the ceiling. England. This trip was the chance of a lifetime; I would be crazy not to go, but after the night I’d spent getting to know Ethan better, doubts swirled around in my mind. And it was more than just the desire to explore what might be happening between the two of us. A month was a long time to be gone in high school terms. Katie would be disappointed if I left for even a short span of our senior year. Applications to colleges and universities were due soon and I had to be sure to stay caught up in my classes. I was starting to get somewhere looking for my birth parents, and then there was Ethan. It really did come down to not wanting to miss the opportunity for something to develop between us, and with his mention that he moved a lot, a month might be a very significant amount of time to miss spending with him. I sighed and flicked off the light, with no idea what I should do.