I met Katie at our lockers the next morning, where she was waiting for me with a strange look on her face. A look that could only mean one thing: she planned to ask me to do something I wasn’t going to like.
“Morning sunshine; how was your night?” Katie asked sweetly, handing me one of the two cups of coffee she held, a classic sign she was trying to butter me up.
My eyes narrowed. “Fine.” I took the coffee from her and threw my bag in my locker. It was better not to mention my encounter with Ethan at the library. I didn’t feel like being prodded about my emotions on the topic at the moment.
“So, I’ve been thinking about this whole Ryan thing, and I think I’ve come up with a solution.”
“That’s good,” I replied, still wary.
“I think you should go on a date with him.” Katie turned to look in her locker, likely so she wouldn’t have to witness my reaction.
My jaw dropped open. “What? Katie, no way! What happened to your list?”
“They all said no. They were either already in a relationship or not interested. Look, I will owe you the biggest favor ever. I know it’s not something you have any desire to do, but if I don’t get Ryan away from Luke and me for one evening I’m going to kill him, and you don’t want that on your conscience, do you?” Katie was on the verge of whining, but I wasn’t giving in.
“No way. I don’t want to give Ryan a single shred of hope
that there could ever be anything romantic between us. And going on a date with him, well I’m pretty sure that would be a shred.” I glared at Katie and shut my locker door, a little harder than necessary. I felt bad for her but this was something I really didn’t want to do.
“Well, maybe going out with Ryan would make Mr. Perfect jealous; did you ever think of that? Because you can’t tell me you aren’t secretly in love with the guy. And I will tell Ryan you’re just going out as friends. I’ll tell him multiple times so it sinks in. It’s just one time; he’s been over at Luke’s every night for like a month, playing stupid video games.” Katie clasped her hands together. “Please, Please, Please.”
I couldn’t stand when Katie begged; she had more perseverance than I did. I exhaled in exasperation. “Fine, one date, but you owe me huge, huger than huge.” I pointed a finger at her.
Shutting my eyes, I took a defeated sip of coffee, hoping it would console me. I thought I’d been doing an okay job of hiding my feelings for Ethan, but apparently I was wrong. Ethan and I barely interacted with each other and still he consumed my thoughts; the sight of him got my palms sweating and made my mouth dry. I didn’t want to share this with Katie, though. She would immediately make it her mission to push the two of us together, and I didn’t need to be the fourth girl at East Halton High to be rejected by Ethan Flynn.
“Thank you Hanns; you are positively the best friend I could ever have. I’ll set it up, and I’ll mention repeatedly that it is strictly as friends. Hopefully he’ll get the picture,” Katie said.
Even with my eyes shut, I could hear the grin on her face. “Whatever. Just make it soon so I can get it done and over with.” I tried not to sound bitter as I threw my empty coffee cup in the nearby trashcan and headed off to biology with Katie in tow.
By the time I got to art class later that day, Katie had set up my date with Ryan for two weeks from Tuesday. Between both of our work schedules, and Ryan’s insistence on planning something special, the date had ended up further away than I’d hoped. It was going to be a long two and a half weeks.
As I sat at the back of the art room, trying to push my negative thoughts about the impending date aside and focus on my work, I remembered that I needed to buy the canvases for the pieces for the gala. Ms. Woods was out of oversized canvases, but I needed to start painting. As it was, staying and working after school to get both paintings done in time was a must.
Ms. Woods had a pretty relaxed attendance policy, and this was especially true if the reason for your absence was somehow art related. I explained to her my need to pick up the canvases, and she let me sign out of class so I could head into Hartford to grab them.
After almost an hour of looking through all the supplies at the huge art supply box store, I bought three oversized canvases, a new set of paints, and six new brushes in varying sizes and shapes to use on the paintings for the gala. I also picked up a new charcoal set, some pencil crayons, and a sketchbook for myself.
I threw my purchases in the backseat of the car and checked my watch. Dad would be home soon. We hadn’t had dinner together in over a week. I called him and got his voicemail. I left a quick message saying I would be home in about an hour, and if he wanted to grab the lasagna out of the freezer, I would bring home garlic bread and Caesar salad. Then I left the parking lot and started on my way home.
As I stopped at a red light, I let my mind wander to the image of the couple from the advertisement I’d been working on. I could remember a sense of closeness between them in the original and I wanted to be sure to capture that feeling in my painting. The light turned green, but before I had a chance to press the gas pedal, a sudden jolt from behind snapped my head back against the headrest.
“Hey,” I yelled. I took a second to mentally check myself over to see if anything felt strained or hurt, and then looked in my rearview mirror to see what had happened. I couldn’t believe it, but it looked as though a very familiar green army Jeep had just rear-ended me. I felt okay, and got out of the car to see if there was any damage, and to yell at the other driver, who I was pretty sure I knew.
“Ethan!” I walked towards him. He was already standing between our vehicles. He didn’t look at me as I approached, but stared over my shoulder, his eyes full of concern.
I whirled around to see what he was looking at just in time to witness a dump truck speed through the red light, swerve to miss a minivan and slam into a parked car on the other side of the street. The crash was deafening as metal crunched and scraped against metal, and glass exploded from the parked car and went spraying in all directions. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, and before I could react, Ethan grabbed me by the waist and spun me around, putting himself between me and any possible shards of debris.
Thankfully, we were far enough away from the accident to avoid any metal or glass hitting us. I stood still for what felt like an eternity; I was too shocked to move. My senses slowly started to return, and a buzzing sound rang in my ears. Ethan gently tugged on my arm, guiding me up onto the curb.
“Are you okay?” His hand still held me securely. It felt warm and comforting and I wanted to prolong the contact, but I nodded. He searched my face, before he let me go and ran across the street towards the cab of the truck.
The truck actually didn’t look too bad; the front was smashed up a little and the windshield had cracked, but other than that the vehicle seemed relatively unscathed. The parked car, however, was little more than a crushed tin can.
The driver of the truck, a stocky older man, probably in his sixties, stumbled out of his cab. He looked as shocked as everyone who had just witnessed the accident. I wondered what had gone wrong; it was a beautiful fall day.
“I don’t know what happened.” I could hear him telling Ethan. “The brakes wouldn’t work; even the emergency brake was seized.” He’d taken his baseball cap off and scratched his balding head. He didn’t appear to be hurt. I couldn’t hear Ethan’s end of the conversation, but he seemed to be reassuring the man that everything was going to be okay. I noticed that Ethan’s eyes kept darting in my direction. Is he worried I’m going to go into shock or something?
Sirens wailed in the distance as a horrifying thought popped into my head. If Ethan hadn’t bumped into the back of my car, I would probably have been right in the path of that truck, and judging from the damage to the parked car, my little Toyota would not have fared well. I shuddered at the thought that I had just escaped being very seriously injured, if not worse. I glanced over at my car, still sitting at the intersection; it looked perfectly fine. Ethan’s Jeep had only hit the back end with enough force to surprise and stop me.
Ethan glanced over at me again. He must have noticed the odd expression on my face, because he left the truck driver with a passerby and jogged over.
“Hannah, are you okay?” Ethan cupped my shoulders gently, his eyes searching mine.
“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be? It’s not like I just narrowly escaped getting creamed by a dump truck.”
Ethan stared at me for a second and then gave me a wry grin. “Glad to see your sense of humor wasn’t damaged.”
I managed a shaky smile back.
Ethan’s hand slid across my shoulders. “How about we go sit on the bench over there?”
I nodded and complied with his suggestion.
“Can I have your keys?” Ethan held out his hand once I was sitting at the bus stop on the corner.
“Why?” I reached into my bag to fish them out, my body responding automatically to the request before my brain did.
“We should move our cars off the street. I’ll just pull them into the parking lot over there.” Ethan pointed to an open lot across the street and half a block down, away from the action by the truck.
“I can do that.” I started scrounging more intently in my bag for the keys, unable to find them. I looked up. “My keys are still in the car, I didn’t pull them out of the ignition after you ran into me.” I started to stand so I could go help move our cars.
“It’s okay, I’ve got it. You should sit for a minute.” Ethan put a hand on my shoulder and gently but firmly pushed me back down onto the bench.
I was going to argue, but he was around to the driver side before I could open my mouth. I didn’t feel entirely stable, so I gave in to his chivalrous gesture.
What is he doing here? The question broke through the distress I felt about the truck. I was thankful that he was there, grateful that his action had kept a more serious accident from occurring, but why was he there? How did he just happen to be behind me at an intersection in Hartford? It didn’t make sense and, stacked up with all the other Ethan sightings and rescues, I couldn’t just chalk it up to coincidence. I frowned as I watched him put my car in park and jog back over to me.
He stepped back up on the curb beside me. I’d just opened my mouth to ask him about everything that had happened when his gaze darted up towards a window in the apartment across the street.
“Ethan?” I followed his eye line. What was so interesting about an open window?
“You know what, on second thought, why don’t I give you a ride home? You should lie down. You’re probably going to feel a bit stiff from the jolt I gave you. It doesn’t look like there’s any damage, but we can exchange insurance information when we get back to your house if you want.” Ethan turned back to look at me. A strange intensity sparked in his dark green eyes, and his voice carried a hint of urgency. The accent Carmen had mentioned when Ethan left The Patch came out in his voice. Up until now I hadn’t heard it and had thought she must have been mistaken, but suddenly a distinct trace of it was very clear.
“Shouldn’t we stay and answer questions for the police, as witnesses I mean?” Why was he in such a hurry to leave?
“There are plenty of people who witnessed the accident that can answer questions, and I don’t really want to be here all day, do you?” Ethan’s tone was even, but it seemed like there was something more he wasn’t telling me.
Part of me wanted to make sure I did the right thing and stuck around for questioning, but I also really wanted to get home. Dad would be expecting me anytime now, and my neck muscles were tightening up a bit. “I guess we can go.” I rubbed the back of my neck.
“Okay, good. It’s a bit of a step up into the Jeep; I can help you if you want,” Ethan offered, moving towards the passenger side of his vehicle and pulling the door open for me.
“But what about my car?” My forehead wrinkled and I pointed in the direction of the parking lot.
Ethan crossed his arms. “I’m not letting you drive home.”
I might have been excited that he seemed to genuinely care about my wellbeing, if I wasn’t so freaked out by everything that had just happened.
“I can drive.” I squared my shoulders and started to walk towards my car even though my legs did feel a little wobbly.
“Hannah, you seem pretty shaken up; that means you shouldn’t be driving. I promise I’ll make sure you get your car back.”
I hesitated, but when a wave of dizziness swept through me and I swayed on my feet, I gave in. “Okay.”
He helped me into the Jeep, and I fumbled with the seatbelt, my hands shaking, as he moved around to the driver side. The police had arrived but didn’t even look in our direction as they investigated the smashed up truck and rerouted the traffic that had started to back up at the intersection.
Ethan did a quick u-turn and we left the mess behind us.