I hadn’t seen Ethan in five days. I knew he must be around; it was his duty, after all, to keep me alive, but there was no sign of him at school or at the house. I’d slept at my house every night since learning the truth about Ethan and the Hleo. I didn’t feel like trying to come up with an explanation for everything that had happened that would satisfy Katie if I stayed with her, but it felt strange to come home to an empty house after school every day. I missed Dad, and wished that he wasn’t on another continent. I wanted to be able to talk to him about all of this and find out exactly what he knew.
Finally, the loneliness got to me and I ended up going back to Katie’s, which helped a little. I told her that Ethan and I had gotten into a fight because he’d questioned my integrity, but left out the exact details. Katie couldn’t believe Ethan would do something like that, and was sure his actions were because he was fighting his feelings for me. I wished that I could tell her the whole truth, so she could see how wrong she was, but I kept silent.
Ethan’s absence had left me feeling more conflicted than ever. I was still hurt by his reaction to Evelyn’s misinformation, but I missed him terribly and I’d realized something. Even though he didn’t feel for me way I felt for him, I was hopelessly in love with him. My feelings went well beyond some infatuated crush. I would follow him to the ends of the earth if he asked me to. It was hard to love someone so completely and know that the feelings weren’t returned, but his presence would be better than the void his disappearance had created. If only he would surface again. Then we could try to get back to the way things had been, but I didn’t even know how to find him to tell him that.
The Masks Gala was only a week away and Katie decided she had to find a dress that would fit the old-fashioned theme of the evening. I wasn’t in the mood for a day of shopping; as things stood I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to the dance, but Katie insisted, so I agreed to go with her.
I’d gone home to get a fresh change of clothes and the plan was to meet up at Something New, the town’s bridal store for inspiration. Katie hoped she might find a vintage-looking wedding dress on sale that her seamstress mother could tweak into something perfect.
I had no desire to go into the store by myself, so I waited for Katie outside, lingering in front of the large picture window with its display of white and off-white gowns. The sky was a threatening shade of gray and the heaviness in the air suggested it could start raining any second. I glanced down the street, but Katie was nowhere to be seen. I shivered as a cool wind blew past me, and decided to grab a coffee. I was really trying to get excited about our impending afternoon of dress shopping, but it was hard. Up until our fight, I’d secretly hoped that Ethan might ask me to go to the gala. He knew I’d be expected to attend because of the artwork I’d submitted, but now that wasn’t going to happen.
Instead all I could do was obsess about his absence and wonder if he was watching me. My stomach tightened. What if he’d decided he didn’t want to be my Hleo anymore and had asked to be replaced? What if I never saw Ethan again? Even thinking such a thought made it hard to breathe. I did a quick scan of the parked cars on the street to see if I recognized any of them, but I hadn’t spotted the green army Jeep or Evelyn’s silver BMW in days. It seemed they were very good about staying hidden when that was what they wanted to do.
I quickly crossed the street to The Beanery, a busy, hipster-style coffee shop. The line moved slowly, but finally it was my turn. I went with simple, and ordered a medium double-double to go. Reaching down for my wallet, I groaned, I’d left my bag in the car. I stood at the counter for a second, not sure what to do, feeling like an idiot.
“I’ll get that.”
I spun around at the sound of a male voice. “Adam!” I hadn’t seen him since that day at The Patch, and figured his flirting must have been just a way for him to pass the time, nothing more. With everything else that had gone on since then, I’d almost forgotten him completely, but now here he stood looking as charming as ever in jeans and a camel-colored wool-knit sweater.
“Hi gorgeous, I thought that was you. Come join me.” He handed the girl behind the counter the money for both our orders, then grabbed his coffee and headed towards a small round table in the corner.
I checked my watch. Katie would arrive any second and be waiting for me outside of Something New. I shot a quick glance across the street and didn’t see her, so I sat down at the table across from Adam.
“Thanks. I forgot my purse in the car. I can’t believe I did that; I guess I owe you one.” I pushed back the tab on my coffee cup.
“I think you’ll find you owe me two now. I’m really starting to stack up the favors.” Adam gave me that mischievous grin I remembered from the store.
“I guess that’s true.” I tried to sound casual. “I wondered if I would ever see you again.”
“You missed me, huh?” His eyebrows lifted a little.
“What can I say? Your folding skills put mine to shame.” “So, you’ve really only missed the free labor then?”
I rolled my eyes. “I did really appreciate your help. I wanted to be able thank you again.” I took a sip of coffee.
“If you really want to thank me, you could go out with me this weekend,” Adam suggested. The smile was still on his face, but there was something more to his tone I couldn’t put my finger on.
“What, a guy like you doesn’t already have a hot date lined up?” One of my eyebrows arched as I tried to sidestep his invitation. Adam seemed like a great guy; he was nice, funny, charming and very attractive. I wanted to like him, but as impossible as it was, my heart belonged to Ethan. Even if it was one-sided, until Ethan had fully moved on from my life—a thought that petrified me—I didn’t think I was capable of being interested in any other guy.
“I’ve been holding out for something exceptional.” Adam tipped back in his seat and kept his eyes locked with mine.
I swallowed slowly. I couldn’t very well tell Adam I was hung up on another guy. Think Hannah, think. It was the gala weekend. Adam probably would have been up for being my escort, but I didn’t want Ethan observing me with some other guy at such a formal event.
“Sorry, I’m already booked this weekend, but maybe we could try for another time,” I said, then blinked. I could barely believe the words coming out of my mouth. I’d put him off, not turned him down, and that decision surprised me.
“Booked, huh?” He searched my face like he was trying to tell if I was lying.
“Yeah, this thing with school.” I didn’t want to tell him it was a dance, in case he offered to go with me.
“Okay, why don’t you give me your phone number, and we’ll come up with a better time then.” He leaned in closer so that our heads were only inches apart.
I whipped around to see Katie standing in the coffee shop, a mixture of confusion and mirth on her face.
“Hey, I didn’t see you come in. Katie, this is Adam. I wanted a coffee before our big shopping excursion, but I forgot my wallet in the car so Adam bailed me out. He’s the guy that helped me that day at The Patch. Adam, this is Katie, my best friend.” I rose to my feet, hoping that her arrival would give me an excuse to leave.
Adam stood too, and stuck out his hand towards Katie. She shook it, looking back and forth between the two of us with a big smile on her face. “It’s very nice to meet you, Adam.” Amusement rang through her voice. I was going to get an earful as soon as we were alone.
“You too Katie, best friend of Hannah.” Adam flashed her one of his winning smiles. “Maybe you could help me to convince her to go out with me sometime.” Adam let go of her hand and looked over at me, his dark brown eyes piercing through me.
“Hannah’s a big girl; I’m sure she can make up her mind for
herself.” Katie’s tone was teasing.
“I hope so,” Adam replied.
I needed to step in before this situation got even more embarrassing. “Give me a call and we’ll arrange something.” I quickly jotted my cell number down on a napkin and handed it to him. I wanted to get out of there with Katie as quickly as possible, before she had a chance to suggest he take me to the dance. I could only guess what she was going to say once we were away from him.
“That sounds perfect. I’ll talk to you later, beautiful. Katie, it was nice meeting you.” Adam took the napkin and sat back down. I picked up my cup and grabbed Katie’s arm.
“You too.” Katie called over her shoulder as I practically dragged her out of the coffee shop.
“That was Adam?” was all she said as we made our way across the street and back to my car. She sounded stunned and impressed.
“That was Adam.” I unlocked the door and slid into the driver’s seat. I wanted to have this discussion in the privacy of my vehicle, rather than while browsing in a dress store. I stuck my cup of coffee in the cup holder then reached over and unlocked Katie’s door.
“Hannah, you did not do that guy justice. He’s like straight from GQ magazine or something. What is with you? First Ethan, now Adam, I mean, I’ve got Luke and don’t get me wrong, I love him, but could you please explain this hot guy magnetism you seem to have developed recently?” Katie’s eyes were wide with awe.
“He is pretty cute, right? I can’t believe he asked me out. What do you think I should do?” I turned in my seat to face her, scrunching up my nose as I thought through my encounter with Adam.
“Go for it, are you kidding me? What’s stopping you?” She sounded baffled.
“Well, I mean, what about …?” I glanced up at the ceiling and sighed.
“Ethan? He had his chance, Hanns. I mean, I still think he’s got the hots for you, but he moves slower than my grandma with the bad hip. You’ve got to go for the guy that is ready, willing, and asking.” Katie bobbed her head, her curls gyrating wildly to emphasize her point.
“I guess you’re right. I just don’t know.”
Katie stared at me, and it was as though a light bulb turned on in her head. She dropped the buoyant enthusiasm and grew serious. “You really care about him, don’t you?” The joking tone was stripped from her voice.
“I do Kate; I wish I didn’t, but I do.” I bit my lip, frustrated at the impossibility of the situation. Why had I ever gone on that stupid date with Ryan? And why couldn’t Ethan have had more faith in me than in Evelyn? He’d known her a lot longer, so how could I win?
“Have you told him?”
“No,” I muttered, grabbing my cup of coffee for something to wrap my hands around.
“Well Hanns, maybe it’s time. I mean, you guys seem to have this back and forth dance going on, and maybe it’s time you were just upfront with him. Either way, at least you’d know how he feels and you’d be able to move forward, right?”
“It’s complicated.” If only I could come clean and tell Katie the whole story, but Evelyn’s words played over in my head, strengthening my resolve to keep silent.
Katie rolled her eyes. “Everyone always says that, but it’s usually not as complicated as you think.” She clearly thought I was just being dramatic, which was her tendency, not mine, although in this case I could see why she would think that.
“Here’s what we’re going to do. We are going to go and find the most fabulous dresses ever to wear to the Masks Gala, and then you are going to ask Ethan to escort you, just as a friend, because you need someone to go with and it’s in like six days. Then the night of, when he sees you looking all glammed up and beautiful, he will have no choice but to admit his secret desire for you right then and there, and the two of you will live happily ever after.” Katie clasped her hands together over her heart.
“You think that will work?” I allowed myself a twinge of hope that her plan might have a chance at success.
“I know it will. All we have to do is find you a dress.” Katie pushed open her door, as though the decision had been made.
I set my cup back in the holder and followed her. We looked
all afternoon for dresses. Katie tried on about twenty before she found the one that she decided was made for her, a chocolate-colored vintage bridesmaid’s dress that she was going to have her mom alter to make a little more stylish. I looked too, and tried on a few, making an honest effort to select something, but I couldn’t find anything that suited. I had a picture in my mind of what I wanted the dress to look like and nothing I saw even came close. So far the first part of Katie’s plan wasn’t working out so well, and she was disheartened, but I assured her I’d find something before Saturday.
I headed home by myself for the night so I could finish up some weekend homework and just relax on the couch. I didn’t know if I would even see Ethan before the gala, but if I did, I would go along with Katie’s plan and ask him if he would escort me, as a friend. A small smile crossed my face as I thought about my encounter with Adam in the coffee shop. If Ethan wouldn’t go with me, at least I had a pretty decent back-up plan.