We drove back to East Halton in silence. My head was spinning, and I had no idea how to begin asking all the questions whirling around in my mind. This was almost as awkward as the way we had met, although he was fully clothed this time, so that was a step in the right direction.
I wanted to know why he was in Hartford, but decided to start with our accident.
“You still think I’m not a jinx? Add this to the helium tank and the lamppost and … Ethan, your arm!” I turned in my seat. At some point he’d pushed the sleeves of his shirt up and I could see his injured forearm, except that now it was almost completely healed. A thin red line ran along where the deep gash had been the night before.
Ethan glanced down at it. “Oh yeah. I told you it wasn’t as bad as it looked.” He shrugged it off.
“But still, how did it get better so fast?” I leaned in closer. The cut from last night was definitely more than a scratch, but now that was all that remained.
“I don’t know. I’ve always healed fast. And it really wasn’t as bad as it must have looked in the dim light of the lampposts.”
“Yeah I guess.” I bit the side of my cheek. I understood his words, but something still felt like it didn’t add up. The shock over Ethan’s rapid recovery had rattled me and we fell back into silence. I pretended not to notice a few minutes later when he casually pulled his sleeves back down.
I had traveled this route from Hartford to East Halton
hundreds of times, but never had it seemed so long. Every second I spent with Ethan, things got weirder and weirder. I needed answers that made sense. “Why did you run into me?” I stared at the dashboard.
“I was watching the light and saw that it had changed green. I didn’t look down to see that you hadn’t started driving yet and I hit the gas prematurely. It was stupid, and I’m very sorry.” I glanced over; Ethan kept his eyes on the road as if he didn’t want to make eye contact with me.
“Oh.” I thought about what he’d said for a moment then turned in my seat to face him. “You do realize that you’ve sort of saved my life three times now right?”
“What do you mean?” He sounded caught off guard.
“Well, the helium tank almost took my head off, then last night, the glass may not have killed me exactly, but I’m definitely glad it didn’t land on me. And this afternoon, if you hadn’t bumped me with your Jeep, I most likely would have been in the middle of the intersection right as that truck was barreling through. If it had hit my car the way it hit that parked one, at the very least I would have been seriously hurt.” I studied his face, watching for his reaction. We locked eyes for a brief second before he turned to look straight ahead again. The distress that filtered through his gaze was unmistakable.
He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as though he wasn’t sure how to respond. An awkward silence stretched between us for almost a minute, before he spoke up. “I guess that’s true, but you could’ve been through the intersection too, you never know. It didn’t happen so it’s probably best not to think about it. So where do you live?”
My head jerked up at the abrupt change of subject and I glanced out the window. We were already in East Halton, and almost back to my house. How could he possibly have known which direction to take? All those times I thought I’d caught a glimpse of his Jeep driving by my house. Had that actually been him?
“Keep going down Maple Street, then turn left onto Black River Road. We live right at the edge of town. I’ll let you know when we’re getting close.” I watched him drive for a minute and then turned to look out the passenger window.
As I watched the trees with their brightly-colored
autumn leaves stream by, the questions played over and over in my mind: How did Ethan just happen to be behind me at that particular intersection? And why did it seem he already knew where I lived? He kept showing up wherever I was. I had to find out what was going on.
“We’re here,” Ethan declared, and I looked up to see that he was turning into my driveway.
“How did you know this was my house?” I blinked.
“You said it was at the edge of town; this is pretty much the last house before you head out into the country, and your last name was on the mailbox. I took a guess,” he replied, his face innocent. There wasn’t even a hint in his expression or tone that he was scrambling to come up with an answer.
The reasoning was all very logical, but I still had to know if I was crazy, or if Ethan was somehow keeping tabs on me.
“You already knew where I lived, didn’t you?”
He blinked rapidly. “What?”
“It’s just, I keep seeing you around town, like at the mall and then the library and I swear I’ve seen your Jeep drive past my place before. Then today, why were you in Hart—?” A thought occurred to me, interrupting me in the middle of my rant. “Did you see the truck coming? Is that why you hit my car? Were you trying to stop me from driving through the intersection?” I probably sounded completely insane, but I didn’t care; I was going to get answers.
Ethan stared at me, his face composed in an unreadable expression, which only added to my frustration. He looked down at the gearshift, and then back to me. “The mall and the library are pretty common places to run into people, especially in a town the size of East Halton.” He lifted a hand in the air. “And the truck came out of nowhere; how could I have possibly known about it?”
Heat rushed to my face. I wanted to find a flaw in his argument, but I couldn’t. “I guess that makes sense. If you’ll excuse me, I just need to go find a cave to hide in for the rest of my life. It was very nice knowing you.” I scrambled to open the Jeep door, desperate to escape the excruciating situation I had created.
“Wait.” Ethan grabbed my arm to stop me.
“It’s okay, you don’t need to explain. The paranoid hardly ever know they’re paranoid, right? I get that I saw something that obviously wasn’t there. I should really get going though; my Dad is probably waiting for me.” I looked down at Ethan’s hand, which still gently gripped my arm.
“No, Hannah, wait,” Ethan said again with a sigh. He followed my gaze to his hand and let go of me.
I bit my lip. What did he have to say?
It was his turn to shift in his seat. He ran a hand across his forehead, looking like he was wrestling with himself over how to begin.
“You aren’t paranoid. I have been…” he paused as though trying to come up with the right word, “… around,” he finally finished.
I pursed my lips and studied him. That wasn’t what I’d expected to hear, and I needed more. “Around? What does that mean, exactly?”
“East Halton is a small town, so it’s easy to bump into people, and when I’ve seen you I find myself watching you; I’m intrigued by you.” He searched my face. I tried very hard to stay calm, but on the inside my heart beat double time.
“Sometimes you seem to be focused on your thoughts so intensely, you don’t notice the world going on around you. I’ve seen you nearly get hit in the face with a stray football, and you just missed walking into the middle of a fight between two freshmen girls in the hallway the other day.”
Was he alluding to different times I had seen a drawing in my mind? I didn’t feel comfortable enough with Ethan to explain that part of myself to him.
“I’m a daydreamer, I guess.” I shrugged. Please accept that explanation. He studied me intently and I could tell he didn’t fully buy what I was saying.
I held my breath and let it out in relief when he spoke again. “I was in Hartford today for a dentist appointment. I saw your car and I admit I did end up following you.” He slid his hands around the steering wheel.
Ethan had been watching me; I wasn’t crazy. All of those glimpses I’d caught of him, and those times I’d run into him, had been intentional. I felt vindicated for having been suspicious, and then remembered the feeling of being watched the first day of school.
“A dentist appointment?” My forehead wrinkled. I needed to know that he wasn’t out and out stalking me. As flattering as Ethan’s explanation was, and as amazing as he seemed, if he had followed me to Hartford, that bordered on weird behavior.
“Yeah, I needed a filling, and the guy is an old family friend or I would have just gone to someone in East Halton. I know I probably shouldn’t have followed you. I didn’t know about the truck, but I am very glad you didn’t get hurt.”
I bit my thumbnail. Was it possible that this incredible guy was actually interested in me too? It seemed completely out of the question, but from the way he was talking, maybe.
“I hope admitting that I’ve sort of been watching you doesn’t freak you out too much. I was hoping we could be friends,” Ethan continued, bursting my romantic bubble with that one word.
So that was it then, friends; of course that was it, what had I been thinking? Ethan Flynn could easily date any girl at school, or in town for that matter; of course I was simply friend material to him.
“Sure, friends would be great.” I gritted my teeth. Great like that reoccurring dream where I’m standing in front of my history class in my skivvies.
“Good. Well, I should probably get going.” Ethan looked over toward my house.
“Yeah, I’ll see you around. Thanks for the ride.” I shimmied out of the Jeep. To my surprise, Ethan got out of the vehicle as well. “I’ll walk you to your door to make sure you get in okay.”
We walked up the porch stairs, Ethan staying a casual two steps behind me.
“Do you want to come in for a drink or something?” No one had ever walked me to the door before, and I wasn’t sure what the protocol was, but before Ethan could respond, my dad opened the front door.
He looked startled by our presence. “Oh Hannah, I didn’t realize you were home.” He held his book bag in his hand, which signaled he was on his way out. So much for our dinner together.
“I just got here.” I went to introduce Ethan, but he stepped
forward and held out his hand before I had a chance to speak. “Hello sir, my name in Ethan Flynn. I’m a friend of your daughter’s.”
I was impressed with his gentlemanly action, and smiled to myself.
“It’s nice to meet you, Ethan. I don’t recall ever seeing you around here before.” I swiveled my head to look at my dad when I heard the strange tone in his voice. It almost sounded like suspicion, and I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like he straightened his posture to appear taller.
Was this protective dad mode coming out? I hadn’t seen it before, but then I’d never given Dad any reason to use it up until now.
“I just moved to town,” Ethan explained, as pleasant as ever.
“I see.” Dad’s tone was still reserved.
I shifted from one foot to the other. “Are you leaving? I left a message for you about having dinner together.” I was feeling the effects of getting bumped by Ethan’s Jeep, and all I really wanted was to lie down for a little while.
“I’m sorry about dinner; I forgot some papers at the school that I promised my class I’d have graded by Monday.” Dad looked from me to Ethan. “You know what, on second thought, my teaching assistant can run them over to me. Why don’t we get dinner going?” He stepped back into the house.
So, it was protective dad mode. I almost smiled. He must not want me to be alone in the house with a guy. If he only knew how little he needed to worry.
“That sounds great. I had a little car trouble and Ethan offered to drive me home. I’ll be right in.” I hoped my vague explanation would satisfy Dad. I wanted him to go back inside and give us a few minutes. After today, who knew how it was going to be between Ethan and me at school? I liked having him to myself, not trying to fight my way through the girls that were practically glued to him all the time.
“Is everything okay with your car?” Dad’s forehead creased.
“It’s okay. I just locked the keys in it. I’ll take the extra set to school with me tomorrow and unlock it.” I avoided eye contact with Ethan. I didn’t like lying, but I didn’t think Dad would handle learning that Ethan had rear-ended me, which had kept
me from getting squashed like a bug, very well.
“Okay, well, I’ll be inside.” Dad sounded satisfied, although he gave Ethan another once over before he shut the door.
“Sorry about that. I guess he’s trying to play the dad card and be all protective or something. He’s not usually like that. And I figured he didn’t really need to know all the crazy details of today,” I added quickly, hoping Ethan wouldn’t think less of me for lying to my dad.
“That’s okay, I get it. You don’t need to explain. I should probably get going anyway.” Ethan stepped off the porch and walked back down the front path.
“I’ll see you later, Hannah,” he called when he got to his Jeep.
“Yeah, later.” I waved as he climbed in and drove off.
I stood on the porch for a few seconds, trying to wrap my mind around the events of the last hour, before taking a deep breath and going inside to find Dad.