Hleo

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Chapter 4

It had been over three weeks since Ethan Flynn had appeared on the scene, and just as I’d predicted, the girls of East Halton High were flocking to him like seagulls to stray fries at the beach. He continued to say hello or nod to me in the hall, or in class. We shared a pleasant familiarity, and not much more than that. I kept telling myself that he was simply being courteous, but his smile was so perfect it was hard not to get sucked in. It didn’t help that he seemed to be everywhere. I’d seen him around town several times since his arrival, and I could swear his army green Jeep had driven by my house more than once.

“Hannah, could you wait for a second? I’d like to talk to you about something.” Ms. Woods stopped me as I headed towards my desk. I’d just walked into the art room, the one area I could count on to be Ethan-free, which meant I could fully relax.

“Sure, what’s up?” I shifted my backpack straps on my shoulders.

“Well, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Masks Gala. It’s a fundraiser that the school puts on every few years around Halloween, in partnership with some of the local charities, at the East Halton Country Club. Everyone dresses up in old-fashioned costumes and all the guests wear masks, like a classic masquerade ball.

“Anyway, the planning committee asked me if I could have a few of my students provide some pieces of artwork to help create the mood they’re looking for. The pieces will then be auctioned off, and the proceeds go to charity. I wondered if you would be able to do two or three pieces for me? I know it’s not a lot of time, but they only asked me this week, and I knew if anyone could get together some amazing works of art in a short amount of time it would be you. You would get to attend the event for free, plus your work being sold would look really good on college applications.” Ms. Woods’ voice held a hint of desperation. It was already the end of September, which meant, if I agreed, I would only have a month to complete the paintings.

I bit my lip. “I don’t know. You’re right, that’s not a lot of time.”

“Even one painting would be a big help to me.” Ms. Woods clasped her hands together.

I sighed, wanting to please my favorite teacher. “Okay, I’m sure I can do one, possibly two. Would that be good enough?”

“That would be perfect, thank you so much. I’ll need them by the twenty-seventh.”

I nodded and walked to my desk. Hoping for inspiration, I sat for a long time with my sketchbook open, but none came. I doodled for a while, throwing around different ideas, until I decided to sketch an image from an ad I’d seen in a magazine, of a couple standing on a balcony under a starry moonlit sky. I dressed the pair in old-fashioned formalwear, and drew the image in a way that would make the viewer feel as though they were inside peeking out at the intimate couple through a large stone archway.

By the end of class I had a second sketch started of a group of people dressed in elegant ball gowns and suits, doing one of those choreographed dances from a bygone era where everyone ends up switching partners throughout the dance.

I was pleased with both sketches, even though neither had come from a flash in my mind. At the very least they would suffice for the Masks Gala when I had so little time to work on them.

I reached my locker at the same time as Katie. She flung hers open so hard it clanged against the neighboring one, as she tossed her backpack inside.

“So, it’s official, Mrs. King hates me again this year. She’s giving me an extra credit assignment because I was one day late handing in my paper on Paradise Lost last week. I just can’t wait until we are on the west coast in the perpetual sunshine, and far away from this small town Connecticut high school. That reminds me, did I mention I was looking into surfing lessons for when we get out there?” Katie shut her locker.

Neither of us was entirely sure what we wanted to do with our lives after high school. The only thing we were completely sure about was which school we wanted to attend: Stanford.

I had never been to the west coast before, and even though I’d grown up in a beach town, there was something very appealing about the idea of walking along the coast, digging my toes into the sand, and staring out at the vastness of the ocean.

“No, but that sounds good. In the meantime, want to console ourselves with shopping and pizza?”

Katie’s face brightened. “Sure.”

“I’m in.” Kristen came up behind me. “Heather has to work, but I’m free and in desperate need of some new boots.”

“Great.” I closed my locker and slung my backpack over my shoulder. “Let’s go.”

Katie, Kristen and I made our way through the hall when I saw the now familiar dark head of hair near our gym teacher’s office. I could overhear Coach Fraser, the gym teacher, asking Ethan if he’d considered trying out for the football team. He said that even though tryouts were over for the year, they would be willing to make an exception for a guy with Ethan’s build.

“Someone seems to be fitting in very nicely around here,” I exclaimed to Katie as we reached the exit to the student parking lot.

“Who?”

“Ethan. Besides just being handed a spot on the football team, I always see at least two or three girls with him.” We reached my car and I jammed the key into the lock.

“You sound jealous,” Katie teased, waiting on the passenger side for me to open the car.

“I’m not jealous; it’s just embarrassing. You’d think the girls around here had never seen an attractive guy before. I mean, besides looks, what’s so great about Ethan Flynn?” I yanked open the car door and threw my backpack in the backseat.

“Trust me, the girls around East Halton have never seen anyone as attractive as him, and besides good looking, he’s also smart, polite, and caring.” Kristen pushed my backpack aside as she settled into the backseat of my car.

“Caring? How do you know that?” I narrowed my eyes.

“Look.” She pointed.

I turned in time to see Ethan carrying a model rocket for Stacy, a fellow classmate who happened to have leg braces. He walked it right onto the bus for her and exited once she was settled. “Oh.”

“And just because girls are throwing themselves at him, doesn’t mean he’s taking them up on the offers. Apparently he’s already turned down three girls, including Ashley Jensen, and come on, what high school boy would turn her down?” Katie turned to look from me to Kristen, wrinkling her nose.

I had to try hard to keep the smile from spreading across my face. So he does have standards, and hasn’t hooked up with some random girl from school. I felt better knowing that somehow. The sight of Ethan made my heart race, and seeing him with another girl would only hurt, although his actions were a little strange. Like Katie had said, what high school boy would turn down someone like Ashley Jensen?

“I wonder why he did,” I mused out loud, hoping for more news on Ethan Flynn.

“I heard he told each of them he isn’t into having a relationship right now; he’s still trying to settle in here.” Kristen dug her hand into her jacket pocket and pulled out her cell phone. I wouldn’t be getting anything else out of her for a while.

Katie started complaining about Mrs. King again as we drove to the mall, and I tried to pay attention, but Ethan kept popping into my head. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately, and as much as I hated to admit it, I realized I was no better than all those other girls; I was just as infatuated as they were with the new guy.

This was new for me. Of course I’d had crushes on guys, and gone on dates, but high school had always seemed so temporary—maybe because my dad and my teachers were always telling me to think ahead to the future—that it never seemed worth it to me to get too involved with anyone. If I did fall for a guy, how likely was it that the plans we both had after high school would coincide in a way that we could stay together? Maybe I’d change my mind if I found a guy I clicked profoundly with like Katie did with Luke, but there had never been that sort of guy at East Halton. There were lots of great guys at school, both good-looking and nice, but none that ever made my stomach ache, or kept me up at night thinking about them the way Ethan did.

I was still intrigued by the subtle sadness I’d originally noticed in his expression, but I’d also picked up on a sophistication, an air about him that suggested life experience and understanding beyond just eighteen years. Where had Ethan Flynn come from? And what had been his life before East Halton?

We shopped for almost two hours. Given that our little mall only had a handful of clothing stores, the trip was pretty uneventful, at least until I thought I saw Ethan heading into the electronics store. I turned away quickly and started rooting through a clothes rack. Since Kristen and Katie had already given me a hard time about Ethan, I didn’t want them to think the sight of him was a big deal to me now.

When we finished our shopping, we drove over to Papa’s Pizza, a restaurant on the main strip. As we walked into the eatery I glanced out the window and saw an army green Jeep turning the corner. “I think that’s Ethan’s Jeep.”

Katie and Kristen turned to look in the direction I was pointing, just in time to see the taillights fading. Katie shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so.” Clearly neither of them found a sighting of Ethan as interesting as I did.

“Well, I’m pretty sure I saw him at the mall.”

“Ooh, why didn’t you say something?” Kristen grabbed my arm. “We could have ‘accidentally’ bumped into him or something.”

I was still staring down the street where the Jeep had disappeared. “Don’t you think that’s weird?”

“Not really. East Halton only has like three streets with stores on them; it’s pretty common for people who are shopping to be in the same areas,” Katie said as the three of us walked over to the counter to order.

We paid for our meals then sat down at the closest booth.

“What are the chances we would be going to the same areas of town, at the exact same time?” I wasn’t ready to let the subject drop.

“Pretty good, actually. Hannah, come on; do you really think that someone like Ethan Flynn would spend his time following us around?” Katie took a big bite of her pizza “I mean, I know we’re awesome, but I doubt we’re that awesome.” She spoke with her mouth full of food, and Kristen laughed.

I stole one last glance out the window to where Ethan’s vehicle had disappeared. It was obvious that I wasn’t going to convince either of them to see my point of view, so I let it go. I hadn’t mentioned any of my other Ethan sightings to anyone and what Katie said made perfect sense; East Halton was a small town, and you did run into people you knew all the time.

“Hannah, are you listening?” Katie’s voice snapped me out of my paranoid musings.

“Sorry, what were you saying?” I straightened up in my seat, determined to give her my full attention.

“I asked what you guys think I should do about Ryan. He’s always around, and Luke and I aren’t getting any time just the two of us. I mean, I get it, they’ve been friends since kindergarten, and he has dibs because of that, but still, can’t he give Luke and me some privacy? It’s like last night, I asked Luke if he wanted to come over to watch a movie and, you know, hang out.” Katie’s tone and wide eyes alluded to more romantic activities than just hanging out.

“He said he’d be there in half an hour, he just needed to dump Ryan. Forty-five minutes later Luke is standing on my doorstep, with Ryan, and Ryan wants to know what we’re going to watch.” Katie groaned. She wadded up her napkin and threw it on the empty paper plate.

“Ryan is sort of needy. Maybe if you could find him a girlfriend of his own? I bet you’d never see him then, because he’d be glued to her side.” Kristen took a last sip of her drink.

“That’s true. I think a girl of his own would probably really help things.” I wiped my hands on my napkin and tossed it onto my empty plate.

“Yeah, but who? I love Ryan, I do, but he has no clue when it comes to girls. He’s too intense, and the whole needy thing comes across before anyone will give him a chance.”

“I’m not sure, maybe someone from another school. Don’t you know anyone from the pool?” I suggested. Katie was a lifeguard at the town’s aquatic center.

She thought about it for a few seconds, drumming her fingers on the table. “That might work; there are a few girls that I could see being desperate enough to give Ryan a chance. Hmm, I do like the idea of a girl for Ryan. Then Luke and I could make out without someone creepily watching, or sighing in loneliness.”

Kristen and I looked at each other. “You make out in front of Ryan?” I asked.

“Well it’s that, or not at all,” Katie replied in exasperation, but then she laughed.

Hopefully she isn’t serious.

The three of us worked on a short list of prospects as we finished up our pizza. I tried to pay attention and contribute, but my mind kept drifting back to Ethan until I suddenly straightened up in my seat. Enough was enough. This was my last year of high school, and I wanted to enjoy it. I had wasted more than enough time thinking about a guy that I had no chance of ever being with.

It was time to expunge Ethan Flynn from my mind for good.

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