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Chapter 3

I walked through the entrance of East Halton High for what would be the last first day I’d ever spend as a high school student. I glanced around, with a small sense of sadness, at the familiar halls that had once seemed so big and intimidating. The same light green metal lockers lined the hallways, the same trophies sat in the glass display cases, and the same dark blue and white school colors advertised various upcoming events on banners and posters. In two short semesters it would all be over, life the way I knew it, and although it was exciting to be so close to adulthood, it was also a little frightening.

If I’d only known exactly how much life was going to change for me, and how much sooner it would be than the end of the school year, maybe I would have stopped to absorb the moment more, commit it to memory so I could look back and remember with ease what being average felt like.

“Earth to Hannah.” Katie waved a hand in front of my face.

Katie and I had been friends since our mothers enrolled us in the same dance class when we were in the second grade, hoping, I suppose, that their little girls would be the graceful ballerinas every mother dreams of. Unfortunately for them, Katie and I were the worst students in the class. For me the problem was a lack of co-ordination and for her a lack of focus. The only good thing to come out of the class was that Katie and I had bonded over the frustration we caused our poor teacher every week. We’d been best friends ever since.

“Sorry, I was lost in thought.” I pushed the feelings of nostalgia aside for the time being.

“Hannah Reed, you get lost in thought more than any other person I have ever met. You daydream more than …” Katie scrunched up her face as she paused to think of someone she could compare me to, “… someone who daydreams a lot,” she finally supplied.

I laughed at her weak attempt to mock me. “Ouch Katie, you got me,” I teased.

“It’s early, give me a break.”

We maneuvered our way through the crowded halls to the second-floor lockers we’d had since grade nine. Katie had bribed the guy originally assigned the one next to mine with a month’s worth of video game rentals to switch with her, and we’d had side-by-side lockers ever since.

Our friend, Ryan Deluca, worked at the town’s video store and had given her the rentals for free. Probably because he had been in love with Katie back then, but since she could barely tolerate the ground he walked on, nothing had ever become of his crush. In fact, she’d been dating his best friend, Luke Van Den Graf, since grade ten.

“By the way, who did you get for English? I got Mrs. King for the second year in a row. I hope she doesn’t hate me like last year.” Katie turned the combination lock on her locker with ease and pulled the door open.

“I have Mr. Gunderson, and Mrs. King wouldn’t hate you if you wouldn’t make fun of her teaching skills.” I gave Katie a knowing smile.

That’s Katie though. I doubt she’s ever had a thought she hasn’t verbalized. She’s smart, hilarious, and confident. I’ve always valued Katie’s boldness and directness, qualities I wished I possessed more of. Even her wild blonde curls—which she keeps just long enough to throw into a ponytail—and her long, lean frame fit perfectly with her adventurous and worry-free outlook.

“It’s not my fault she got her teaching degree from a cereal box. Seriously, who cares what Shakespeare was thinking when he wrote Romeo and Juliet, what does his state of mind have to do with the story anyway? Mrs. King’s such a flake, always going off on tangents about her glory days in university. I wonder if I could switch into Mr. Gunderson’s class. He smells like mothballs, but at least he stays on topic.” Katie paused as she looked over the pictures she’d left up in her locker from the year before.

“I bet you’d really sell him on the switch if you told him that too.” From my angle of the photos I observed just how opposite to my best friend I am in many ways. Not only because of my dark hair and blue eyes, but I’m almost a head shorter than Katie, and my fair complexion is a stark contrast to her year-round tanned skin.

I spun the lock on my locker but nothing happened. I tried again, slower this time, but it wouldn’t work.

“My lock won’t open.” I frowned.

“Really? That’s weird. Here, let me try, I bet you’ve just forgotten the combination over the summer.” Katie nudged me aside and grabbed the lock from my hand. She turned the dial and tugged, but again nothing happened.

“Now what?” I leaned against the closed locker and sighed.

“It’s not a big deal; just get the janitor to cut it off, and get a new one from the office, they sell them there. You go deal with your locker, and I’ll explain to Mr. Sopkow why you’re late.” Katie shut her locker and clutched her books to her chest, ready for biology, our first class of the day.

“Okay, thanks.” I headed off in the opposite direction, towards the janitor’s room.

The halls were practically empty when I got downstairs and knocked on a door that read ‘custodial office.’ The two-minute warning bell rang, but there was no answer at the door so I ignored the bell and knocked again, a little harder; still no answer. Now what? Did I go to the office or look for the janitor?

I spent the next forty minutes buying a new lock from the office and tracking down the janitor. By the time he had cut the old lock off of my locker so that I could finally get into it for the day, only ten minutes remained in the period. It wasn’t worth it, so I spent the free time getting my stuff ready for my next class.

When the bell rang, I looked up to see Katie and my friends Heather Liu and Kristen Silverstein hurrying down the hall towards me.

“I can’t believe you didn’t come to class. I mean, of all the

days not to come to class.” Katie grabbed my shoulders and shook me so hard I nearly dropped my books.

“Why, what happened?” I wrinkled my nose. Mr. Sopkow’s a decent science teacher, but I struggled to see how osmosis and mitosis could be so thrilling.

“It’s not what happened, but who happened.” Kristen pressed the back of her hand to her forehead dramatically.

I raised an eyebrow. “What are you guys talking about?”

“Okay, so there’s a new guy, and he completely gorgeous. Don’t tell Luke.” Katie looked around to make sure her boyfriend was nowhere nearby. I doubted he would care even if he were. He was a pretty confident guy and I knew he trusted Katie.

“Really?” My stomach did a little flip-flop. Could it possibly be the guy from The Patch?

Heather shook her head. “I’m sorry, but there’s no way that guy is in high school, unless he’s failed a couple of times. He made all the other guys in class look like little kids in comparison.”

“He just looks mature, exactly my type of guy.” Kristen’s lips curled up in an approving smile. She usually had guys vying for her attention, and although she was far more interested in her studies, she did love to flirt and enjoyed the art of getting what she wanted from the opposite sex.

Their conversation only added to the uneasy feeling in my stomach.

“So what did he look like?” I tried to sound as casual and uninterested as possible, while silently praying Katie wouldn’t connect the same dots I just had.

“What does who look like?” Ryan came up behind Kristen and slung an arm over her shoulders.

“The new guy in our biology class. And get your arm off me; if he walks by I don’t want him thinking I’m attached to you.” Kristen swatted Ryan’s arm away and flipped her caramel-colored curls over her shoulder.

“That hurts, Kris.” Ryan clutched a hand to his chest. “I thought I was the only man for you.”

“Yeah, maybe if you were a man.” Katie punched him in the shoulder.

“Ha ha, so funny.” Ryan made a face at her.

“Well, I’m off; maybe he’ll be in my Spanish class too.” Katie shut her locker and winked at me. My heart sank. She clearly wondered the same thing I did. Thankfully, she didn’t share her thoughts out loud.

“Ready to go stare at me longingly in geometry?” Ryan turned his attention to Heather.

“In your dreams, but yeah, let’s get going, I want to get a good seat.” Heather pushed her thick-framed glasses up on her nose and she and Ryan headed down the hallway. In many ways, Heather was the stereotype of a studious Asian, but she had a crazy side too. Much to her parents chagrin, she had a tattoo of stars on her wrist and a tiny diamond stud in her nose, but when it came to her grades, she was as serious as she looked.

Kristen made a comment about finally having a guy worth looking at around this place then strode off in the other direction, and I was alone at my locker again. I grabbed my notebook, shut the door, and made my way to my English class. As I ambled through the crowded halls, I kept my eyes out for the new guy. Was there any chance it could be the same one I’d walked in on while he was changing? My cheeks warmed. No. I shook my head as I walked into the classroom. I’m being ridiculous.

The bell rang and I settled into my desk, glancing around to see if there was anyone new. All the faces looked familiar, so I opened my notebook as Mr. Gunderson, with his thinning grey comb-over and old-man sweater, began going over the course outline for the semester. He was getting on a roll when the familiar beep of an incoming text filtered through the class. Everyone’s head shot up, wondering whose phone it could be; it took a second beep for me to realize it was mine. I immediately started digging through my backpack, but even with my head down I could feel Mr. Gunderson hovering over me disapprovingly.

“Miss Reed, have you forgotten my very firm no cell phone policy over the summer?”

I looked up as Mr. Gunderson scowled and crossed his arms. My cheeks burned as my classmates all stared at me. “I’m sorry.”

“Please return it to your locker immediately or I will confiscate it.” Mr. Gunderson waved his hand towards the door. “Don’t be long,” he added on my way out.

I got back to my locker, spun my new lock open and tossed the phone inside angrily. The text had been from Katie asking if the new guy was in my class. I could kill her for embarrassing me like that. It was turning out to be a very frustrating first day.

I was about to shut my locker and get back to class when I noticed that one of the pictures from the inside of my locker door, a close-up of Katie and I, was missing. Trying to remember whether I’d seen it earlier in the day, I searched through my locker to see if it had slipped off and fallen in among my books, but I couldn’t find it. I should be getting back to class, but I really liked the photo, and I quickly scanned the surrounding hallway floor. The halls were pretty bare, so it should have been easy to spot, but I crouched down into a wobbly squat position just in case I could see it from a lower angle.

“Look out!” a male voice shouted from behind me. Someone tackled me to the ground, just as something metal went hissing by my head. My rescuer and I rolled together for a moment, my elbow smashing off the floor as we went. When we stopped moving, he was on top of me.

In the midst of the chaos, a small helium tank slammed against the lockers, clattered to the floor, and spun around wildly until all the gas had emptied from it.

“Are you all right?”

I tore my gaze from the tank and looked up. The emerald eyes of the guy from The Patch searched mine. His hand protectively cupped the back of my head, lifting it slightly from the floor. “Hey, you’re the girl from the store.”

“I … how … what happened?” I took a breath in an attempt to slow the flow of adrenaline coursing through me.

The guy scrambled off of me and held out a hand. “I have no idea.” His grip was strong and warm, but I let go of him as soon as I was standing and balanced again. He looked even more incredible than I remembered. He wore a brown t-shirt and jeans, very casual, but the chestnut color accentuated his tan and made the flecks in his eyes stand out even more.

“I was alone in the hallway. Where did you even come from?” I glanced towards the unoccupied science room the tank had shot out of before stumbling over to the empty container. No one else appeared to have heard the commotion.

“I was looking for Mr. Gunderson’s English class. I rounded the corner and heard a hissing sound, and then I … I don’t know. I just acted on instinct, I guess.” The guy stooped down and picked up the metal tank. It looked like the regulator valve had snapped off.

“Well, thank you for saving me. That thing would’ve taken my head off if it had hit me.” I rubbed my throbbing elbow, grateful it was the only injury I’d sustained.

“You’re sure you’re okay? I didn’t mean to tackle you that hard, I just wanted to make sure you were out of harm’s way.”

I dropped my arms to my sides. “I’m fine. I heal quickly.”

My Good Samaritan carried the tank back into the science room, while I closed my locker. The picture would just have to stay missing for now.

“I wonder what happened.” I joined him in the dark classroom. Nothing seemed out of place.

“The valve must have been faulty.” The guy set the tank on the desk and stepped back. He didn’t sound completely convinced.

“What else could it be, right?” I shrugged. “Wait. Mr. Gunderson? You’re in high school?” The words tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them. The guy just smiled that fantastic smile of his, obviously finding my blunt question humorous. “Sorry, of course you are.”

“Would you happen to know where his English class is?” He moved back into the hallway and grabbed the worn canvas messenger bag lying discarded on the floor.

I tried not to stare as he slung it across his well-formed chest. “I’m actually in that class. I can take you there if you want.” Mr. Gunderson wouldn’t be pleased I was taking so long.

“Thanks, I really appreciate it.” He fell in step beside me. “I’m Ethan, by the way.” He held out his hand again.

“Hannah.” I shook his hand briefly. He gave me a friendly smile, and I smiled back, but then turned my focus to the hallway again.

“It’s nice to meet you Hannah, officially,” Ethan said.

“You too.” Had he noticed my lack of eye contact? If so, had he figured out that I was remembering our encounter from the day before? Heat crept up my neck.

We reached the classroom before Ethan could say anything else, and I glanced in to make sure Mr. Gunderson wasn’t in the middle of a lecture. He hated interruptions, but the coast looked clear; everyone seemed to be reading silently at their desks, so I opened the door.

“Miss Reed, you’ve finally returned, and brought someone with you, I see.” Mr. Gunderson narrowed his eyes as he studied the two of us.

I pushed back my shoulders, aware that the eyes of every female in the classroom were on us. Mr. Gunderson looked from me to Ethan. “He’s new,” I blurted out. I shut my eyes and winced. Real smooth Hannah.

Mr. Gunderson looked from me to Ethan, before walking around his desk and picking up a piece of paper.

“Ah yes, Mr. Flynn, is it? Take a seat in the front row here, beside Miss Jensen.” Mr. Gunderson motioned to the front seat where Ashley Jensen, one of the most confident girls I’d ever met, sat. She was head cheerleader, a member of the student council, and an all-around popular girl with her petite athletic body, long blond hair and always perfectly made-up face. Ashley was friendly enough, but she knew her status at East Halton High. At the moment though, she appeared to be trying very hard not to grin like a silly schoolgirl as Ethan sat down beside her.

The rest of the class was a blur. I couldn’t concentrate on schoolwork, and I kept catching myself staring at the back of Ethan’s head, wondering where he had come from. How he could possibly be in high school? And how had he been able to react so quickly to that helium tank? He didn’t turn around, thankfully, but I had no idea what Mr. Gunderson talked about from that moment on. I found Ethan’s presence unnerving. Hopefully he wouldn’t be in any more of my classes. If he was, it was going to be a long day. In fact, it had already been a long day.

When the bell rang, I gathered my books as quickly as possible, avoiding Ethan as I walked by, and made my way back to my locker.

I rifled through my stuff, trying to convince myself none of this was a big deal. So I walked in on the guy when he was half-naked; I only saw what anyone at the beach would see. It was embarrassing, sure, but he didn’t seem to be offended. If only he wasn’t so beautiful. I sighed.

“How do you know Ethan?” I turned to see Ashley Jensen, her eyebrows raised and her head tilted to one side.

“I don’t.” I bit my lip. I really didn’t feel like explaining my connection with Ethan to her of all people.

“You walked him to class, and he acted like he knew you.” Ashley shifted her weight from one foot to the other.

I tried to think of an answer that would satisfy her and not humiliate me. “He came into The Patch the other day. I work there, and I guess he remembered me when we ran into each other in the hall. He was lost so I walked him to class.” Please let that be enough for her. I definitely didn’t want to explain that he’d played the part of my rescuer earlier.

“So you don’t, like, have any real connection to him?” From the smile on her face she was obviously glad to hear there wasn’t one.

I wish. The thought caught me off guard. “Um no, just in passing.”

“Okay, well, thanks for the information. I’ll see you around.” Ashley disappeared just as Katie walked up to our lockers.

“What was The Queen doing here?” Katie asked with a look of disdain on her face.

“She’s not that bad.” I shrugged. Ashley did walk around the school with an air of entitlement, but for the most part she wasn’t unpleasant.

“She has minions. No one who has minions can be considered ‘not that bad,’ but whatever. What did she want?” Katie crossed her arms when I hesitated.

“She wanted to know how I knew the gorgeous new guy in our English class.” I pretended to rummage for something in my locker, refusing to look at her.

“It’s the same guy, isn’t it? I knew it. I knew from the description you gave me that it was the same guy. Hanns, you weren’t exaggerating; he really is right out of a movie or something.” Katie pulled on my arm forcing me to meet her gaze.

I lowered my voice and leaned closer to her “He is, isn’t he? His name is Ethan Flynn. Ashley wanted me to confirm that there was nothing romantic between the two of us, which I did, much to her relief. So one guess what her plans are for him.” I shut my locker and leaned against it, feeling very tired and ready for the day to be over.

“Why would she think there was something between you two?” Katie wrinkled her nose.

“Mr. Gunderson made me return my cell phone to my locker

when you texted me, and I ran into Ethan in the hallway. Actually, he sort of saved me. I was bent over looking for a stupid picture and this helium tank came flying out of that classroom at me.” I pointed to the room beside our lockers, my finger trembling a little at the memory of the close call. “He pushed me out of the way just in time. Then I walked him to class and he kind of acted like he knew me. Ashley was worried that it meant something, which of course it didn’t.” I glanced around, hoping my friend would keep her reaction to a minimum.

Katie gripped my forearm. “I’m sorry, he saved you?”

“I guess so, yeah.”

“That is incredible. So, he’s like your very own Superman.”

“Kate.” I rolled my eyes.

“But he remembered you. Was he friendly? You must have made some kind of impression.”

“Of course I made an impression; I burst in on him while he was in the middle of changing,” I replied as we wove our way through the halls on the way to the cafeteria for lunch. I kept looking over my shoulder as we walked. Did I want to see Ethan, or was I scared to see him in case he tried to talk to me again? I couldn’t decide. All I did know for sure was that I seemed to be incapable of coming across as remotely intelligent when he was around.

I didn’t see Ethan through lunch, but he turned up in my history class right after. Somehow I managed to concentrate anyway, and then I escaped to art class.

I loved art class; my artistic ability was one of the few things in life I felt pretty confident about. One day, when I was about twelve years old, I was in my bedroom doodling. Our house always had an abundance of art supplies because of my mom’s profession, and I was constantly grabbing her sketching pencils and paper to fool around with. On this particular day, I’d been sprawled out on my stomach on my bedroom floor, drawing a picture of our house, with birds in the sky and flowers in the yard. An image suddenly popped into my head, a baby, cradled by her parents, cooing with happiness and reaching her chubby hands up to their faces. It was as if I was looking at a photograph no one else could see, and I found that the image stayed fresh in my mind while I tried to copy it onto the paper. All I had to do was focus my thoughts on it, and it would be there, as clear and vivid as when it had first appeared. With my twelve-year-old drawing ability, the picture hadn’t turned out quite as well as the one in my mind—the perspective and scale were off, and the detail in the faces and hands wasn’t as crisp as I wanted it to be—but my parents had been very impressed.

I overheard my mom tell my dad later that night, when they thought I wasn’t listening, that the sketch showed real talent, well beyond a twelve-year-old, and that they should continue to encourage my artistic endeavors.

From that time on, different images appearing in my mind has become a pretty regular occurrence. It’s actually the reason Katie believes I’m such a big daydreamer, because I tend to drift off a little when it happens. The pictures always materialize out of nowhere, and I can never predict when they are going to come, but once I’ve committed them to paper or canvas they fade away and it’s hard for me to picture them again. Katie calls them ‘flashes of inspiration,’ and is convinced they prove I’m some sort of creative genius. I don’t know if that’s true, but they did make me appreciate the fact that I can draw and paint. There was something really special about watching a picture come to life right before my eyes, working on the line and shading, using light and dark to create an entire scene on a space that once was blank.

Being able to work on these images was one of the reasons I loved art class. Ms. Woods, the art teacher I’ve had for my entire high school career, was the other. She was a little different than most of my other teachers, but pretty much what someone would expect of an art teacher: free-spirited and relaxed about things like schedules and syllabuses. In fact, since this was our senior year, she told the class we were allowed to create whatever pieces of work we felt inspired to. Her only stipulation was that we complete twenty pieces by the end of the school year, since the class ran as a two-semester course.

I headed straight to the desk I’d claimed as my own for the last three years, right at the back, closest to the fire escape. I liked being in the corner; it allowed me to create without feeling like someone was watching over my shoulder. I kept an eye out for Ethan, but thankfully he wasn’t there. Art class was still all mine, my sanctuary.

The art room was a great place to create, since it was actually the school’s old gymnasium. When the school board renovated about a decade ago, adding a new gym, a debate had ensued about what should be done with the old one. After much discussion, it ended up as the school’s art room. Drawing desks and shelving units were added, but the bleachers and basketball poles are still intact, and the school’s faded blue and white grizzly bear logo is still painted on the side wall. Ms. Woods even put a garbage can under one of the nets near the back of the room, so frustrated students could ball up their work and shoot it into the garbage if they wanted to.

I got to work right away on a drawing that had been rolling around in my head for a while, a woman walking along a city street. She was dressed in a dark red trench coat, and holding a red umbrella, while everyone else around her was dressed in grays and blacks. In my mind, the scene was set in the evening, beneath a sky that held the threat of rain. By the end of class I had the initial sketch done, and planned to start adding color detail the next day.

After a quick stop by my locker to gather up my things for the day, my friends and I made our way out the school’s back door ready to head home. Ethan passed by us, walking in the opposite direction. He smiled and nodded and my cheeks grew warm.

“Did the new guy just nod at you?” Kristen threw her arm around my shoulder, her brown eyes wide.

“I showed him where our English class was, that’s all.” I quickened my pace, hoping Katie wouldn’t mention Ethan’s heroics.

“Oh.” Kristen grinned.

I shook Kristen’s arm off. “It doesn’t mean anything.”

“Sure, sure. Well, he can nod at me anytime he wants to.” She wriggled her eyebrows at me before she, Heather, and Ryan took off across the student parking lot, leaving Katie, Luke, and me by our cars.

“So, you think it’s going to be a good year?” Katie pulled Luke’s arms around her to keep her warm.

“I think it will be. It would be even better if I could find what you guys have.” I motioned to the display of affection between the two of them. I didn’t usually mention my lack of romantic attachments, or even give it much thought, but observing how much they cared for each other gave me a sudden pang of longing for the same thing.

Luke and Katie were perfect for each other. His laid-back attitude allowed her, with her hyper nature, to take charge in the relationship, and also helped to balance her out a little. Even his blond shaggy hair, blue eyes, and six-foot stature were a perfect complement to Katie’s looks. From the moment they realized they liked each other, everyone had known they had something special. For the first time, seeing their happiness made me wish I could find it too.

“There’s always Ryan,” Luke suggested with a laugh. Katie and I groaned. Ryan was a nice guy, but everyone knew how needy he could be, reading into every bit of attention any girl happened to send his way.

“Or maybe someone else. That is, if you can stay alive long enough to find him.” Katie raised an eyebrow and grinned at me.

“Thanks Kate. I’ll just wait until I’m out of this place though.” I shook my head for emphasis, not wanting Luke to question her statement, but he gave her a strange look. “Stay alive? Hannah’s klutzy, but that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?”

“I’m just teasing.” She shrugged and winked at me.

“I should get going, leave you two to yourselves.” I fished my keys out of my jacket pocket.

“Thanks.” Katie gave Luke a playful smile.

I started to go, but a prickling sensation on the back of my neck made me turn around. I couldn’t see anyone, so I shook off the feeling and climbed into my car. You’re being stilly. Still, I stabbed the button to lock the doors with my thumb.

I didn’t have any homework after the first day, which was nice. I changed into my pajamas and settled down on the couch in the living room. As I flipped through the channels, trying to find something interesting, the day played over in my mind. I wasn’t sure how to feel about the gorgeous Ethan Flynn attending East Halton. I’d convinced myself I would never see him again. Now it looked like I was going to see him every day. And he’d saved me from a flying projectile. I tensed at the thought, grateful for his incredible timing.

An hour later I clambered off the couch, ready to call it a night. A shiver ran through me. The feeling of being watched was back again. Cautiously, I moved to the window and glanced outside. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Still, I slid the curtains all the way closed, for peace of mind, and turned on an extra light, wishing Dad would hurry up and get home.

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