Hleo

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Chapter 16

Ethan wasn’t in our first class on Monday. I found that a little odd, since he had said that he would see me at school, but I supposed even Ethan could sleep in and miss a class once in a while, although that didn’t really seem to fit his nature. He wasn’t in any of our classes that day, but I tried not to think about it.

I turned my attention to the paintings for the gala. I tried to divide my time and work between the three of them equally, so they would all get finished in time, but I wanted to focus on the image I had flashed on in the parking lot. It had been playing over in my mind for the last few days, and I’d managed to complete most of the background detail. Now I was at the point where I could start paying attention to the couple in the scene.

Art class flew by. When I got home from school, Dad’s suitcase greeted me in the front hallway. I could hear him shuffling papers around in his office, and headed in that direction to find out when he would be leaving.

“Hey,” I called to him from the doorway of his study. He stood over his desk, his chair pushed back behind him, sorting papers into different piles. It looked as though he was doing a final once-over of the files he planned to take with him on his trip.

“Hannah, you’re home, good; I was hoping to organize everything with you before I had to go.” Dad looked up from his papers and sat down in his chair.

“I thought you weren’t going until the end of the week.” I strolled into the room and flopped down in Dad’s wingback reading chair in the corner of the room.

“Yes, well, there was a seat sale that ended today that drastically reduced the cost of the flight so it was go today or pay a lot more. I was fairly certain I could get done what I needed to, but now I’m feeling a little rushed.” Dad motioned to the papers that still needed to be sorted through.

“Do you want some help?” I stood and walked over to his desk. I could see printouts of Internet resources, pages of his hand-written notes, and other photocopied material that must have been from books he didn’t intend to take with him.

“Actually, that would be great. I think I have everything fairly well sorted, but I need to get all of these piles into file folders and binders.” Dad pointed to the new office supplies on the side table.

I helped Dad get each stack arranged into the appropriate folders and binders, paper-clipping and stapling pages when necessary and writing headings on the folders so Dad would be able to find specific topics easily. It only took about twenty minutes for us to organize everything and pack his book bag.

“Hannah, are you absolutely sure you’re okay with me going on this trip?” Dad set the bag down beside his suitcase in the hall.

My eyebrows shot up. “Of course; why would you think I wasn’t?”

“You’ve just seemed a little distant since I told you about it. I wasn’t sure if maybe you were upset that I hadn’t declined Rupert’s offer when you decided you wouldn’t join me.” Dad clasped and unclasped his hands.

Opening up and discussing feelings wasn’t something Dad did easily and I gave him credit for making the attempt. I completely understood why he was worried. This had been the most time I’d spent with him since finding out about my adoption, which had been the day after his news about his trip, and the mysterious reading of my email. I still wasn’t sure how to act around him and avoiding him had been the far easier solution. I was actually a little glad he was going, if only to give me some space to get my mind around everything Mazy had shared with me.

“Dad, I’m not upset at all; this is the chance of a lifetime for you, and I would never forgive myself if you gave it up for me. I’ve just been really busy with school and work and everything, that’s all.” I felt bad lying to him, but we didn’t have time to dig into the truth right now, and even if we did, I had no desire to.

“As long as you’re sure, that’s all I care about. Are you ready to go to Katie’s?” Dad followed me up the stairs. He needed to grab a few last minute things, he told me, and I wanted to drop my backpack off in my room.

“Oh, no, I’m not. I wasn’t expecting to go there until later this week, so I don’t really have anything packed. I’ll be okay here one night. I can head over there tomorrow,” I assured him as we got to the top of the stairs.

“Hannah, I don’t want you here alone,” Dad exclaimed, in a tone that meant he was serious.

“It’s only one night, Dad. I’ve been here alone before. It’s not a big deal. I’ll pack tonight, and then tomorrow I’ll head over to Katie’s after school.” He really didn’t need to worry.

“No, I think you should see if you can go to Katie’s tonight,” he urged.

I opened my mouth to argue. I wasn’t going to do anything reckless, and if it was Ethan he was anxious about, well, he hadn’t even been at school, but Dad seemed so resolved that I decided to go along with it. “Okay Dad, I’ll text Katie and see if it’s all right for me to come over tonight. I’m sure her parents won’t care.”

As I’d suspected, Katie and her parents were fine with me joining them. She decided we would spend the night watching girlie movies, giving each other manicures, and doing other ridiculous sleepover activities. I reminded her it was a school night, and really I was fine if we just hung out. She sent me an eye roll emoji and teased me about being overly studious.

Within the hour I’d packed an overnight bag and was getting ready to say good-bye to Dad, who was waiting for his ride to the airport. I’d only packed enough stuff for a few days. I could always come home to grab more clothes as I needed them. That way, if I needed a break from Katie, I could always use that excuse to get away for a while.

I brought my bag downstairs and met Dad coming out of the kitchen.

“I’m ready to go to Katie’s house.” I set my stuff down beside Dad’s luggage.

Through the front hall window, I saw the car he’d ordered pull into the driveway. A small wave of sadness washed over me. I wasn’t going to see him for a month, the longest we’d ever been apart. “It looks like your car has arrived.” I motioned towards the window, trying to focus on getting him out the door so I wouldn’t think about him being gone.

“Right on time. Well, I suppose this is it. Are you going to be okay? I really don’t feel comfortable being gone from you for such a long time.” Dad studied me intently, as though he sensed how I was feeling.

“I’ll be fine Dad. I have Katie and everyone, and you have a class of young, impressionable minds to mold,” I responded, trying to lighten the moment.

“If you change your mind, I will have a plane ticket to you by the end of the day. You just remember that, okay?” Dad held out his arms. Neither of us was overly affectionate, but it felt nice to hold onto Dad for a few seconds and feel the way I had as a child, when I would get hurt and he would scoop me up and give me a hug to make it all better.

Tears rose, and I quickly blinked them back, not wanting to make his departure any more difficult than it already was. We pulled away from our hug at the sound of the doorbell ringing.

“I should get going, but you’re heading out now too, right?” Dad strode over to open the door for the driver.

“I’m right behind you.” I picked up my bag, both so he would know I was being truthful, and to keep it from getting taken along with his stuff.

The driver took Dad’s suitcase, but Dad held onto the book bag with his computer and all his travel documents. Within minutes the car was packed, and Dad and I stood by our respective vehicles, ready to go our separate ways, but not quite sure how to do so.

“Travel safe, and let me know when you get in, okay?” I said finally, to get him to go.

He opened the car door, but then turned and pulled me into one more hug. “Please be very careful while I’m gone, and please stay at Katie’s,” Dad implored softly in my ear. Then he climbed into the backseat of the black town car.

“I will, Dad,” I promised. The car door closed, and I waved as the driver backed down the driveway and pulled away. I stood watching until the vehicle had disappeared, taken aback a little by Dad’s last actions and words.

He’s really concerned, but why? What sort of trouble did he think I would get into while he was away? He knew that I could be trusted to make wise decisions, and until Ethan had arrived he’d never shown any sort of worry, not even when I stayed out late or forgot to call if I was out somewhere. It was strange; his behavior made it seem like he thought something was going to happen to me. I tried to shrug it off as travel jitters, but his words played over in my mind the whole drive over to Katie’s house.

When I got to Katie’s, she was already in her pajamas. A valley girl ponytail on the top of her head sent blond curls spilling in all directions. She had made popcorn and bought all kinds of junk food for us to gorge ourselves on. Her enthusiasm for our girlie girl sleepover helped, but I still wasn’t completely able to get Dad’s warning out of my head.

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