“Hannah, can I speak with you for a moment?” Dad called me into the kitchen as soon as I came back into the house. He stood at the counter with a glass of water, looking as though he had something important to tell me.
“What’s up?” Why did he seem so serious?
“How well do you know that young gentleman?”
I almost smiled. Was he going to give me some sort of fatherly speech about a young man’s intentions? “Well, we go to school together, and I guess we’re sort of friends, but I don’t know him that well.” I leaned against the kitchen doorframe.
“He’s a high school student?” I realized that neither Ethan nor I had mentioned that he was a student, and no one would think he was simply by looking at him.
“Yeah, he’s a senior; we have some of the same classes.”
Dad glanced down at his water and then at me. The whole exchange was beginning to feel odd. I really hoped he would get to whatever advice he wanted to dispense quickly.
“And he just moved to town?”
“Yes, he started at school this year. Dad, is there something you wanted to tell me?” I tried not to sound exasperated.
“Hannah…” He seemed to be searching for the right thing to say. “I want you to be careful around that boy.”
“Sure Dad, I can do that. We’re just friends though, so you can put your mind at ease.” I smiled and turned to leave the kitchen.
“I don’t want you to be alone with him.” The sternness in his voice caught me off guard.
“What?” I spun around to look at him. His eyebrows were
furrowed together and his arms were crossed. He looked truly worried, but why? Ethan might look a little old for his age, but he had been a perfect gentleman when he introduced himself. If this was being protective, it was a bit extreme, and if it wasn’t then I couldn’t figure out what on earth could have Dad so uptight.
“Please, if you could just do as I ask, it would make me feel much better,” Dad said. Apparently that was all I was going to get as an explanation. He turned and set his glass in the sink.
“Dad, you know you sound a little crazy, right?” I wanted to please Dad, but on the off chance something did develop between Ethan and me, I didn’t want to make him a promise I couldn’t keep.
He looked back at me and his face relaxed. “Sorry, I’m just trying to be a good dad. I’m going a bit overboard though, aren’t I? It’s just that it’s my job to protect you, that’s all.”
“And you are doing a fantastic job.”
Dad stared at me for a second and then nodded. “How about some dinner?” He gave me a small smile.
“Sounds good.” I walked over to the refrigerator to scrounge something up for us to eat.
With all of his talk about protection, it had been the right decision not to mention anything about the dump truck. Since there was no damage to my car, it was something that could just stay between Ethan and me.
Ethan. I sighed, as I chopped vegetables for a garden salad. I tried to convince myself that “friends” was better than nothing. Friendship was the start of something great for lots of people. If he wanted to be friends, I was all for it. I was sure it wouldn’t take Dad long to see that he was harmless. I looked out the kitchen window into our backyard and a small shiver moved through me as I remembered the feeling of being watched.
I couldn’t help hoping that I was right, and Ethan really was as harmless as he seemed.
“Do you want to watch some television?” Dad asked as I loaded the dishwasher after dinner.
“Oh, um sure.” I shut the machine’s door and straightened
up. Did this sudden urge to spend some quality time together have anything to do with our strange conversation earlier?
We ended up watching a documentary on the History channel about some of the world’s most legendary, mysterious and secret artifacts that had disappeared over time, and theories about where they had ended up.
“So tell me, if these are ‘secret’ artifacts how were they able to make a whole documentary about them?” I watched the television screen as it slowly panned in on an old painting of an odd, circular stone hanging from a golden chain around a young woman’s neck.
“That’s what makes them fascinating; the information that does exist about these artifacts is so scarce, most of them are little more than legend.” Dad’s voice grew more animated. It was a perfect fit that he’d become a history professor; there were very few things he was as passionate about. “Actually, that reminds me, Paige had asked to borrow one of my books on ancient Celtic weaponry. I should grab it; she’ll be here soon.” He got up off the couch and crossed the room towards his study.
“Who’s Paige?” I frowned.
“My teaching assistant. A bright young woman with a keen interest in history.” Dad turned back to look at me, his voice full of admiration. Then he disappeared behind his study door.
My forehead wrinkled. I was positive Dad’s teaching assistant was a guy. I’d met him once in the summer when he picked up some books from Dad here at the house. He’d been a nice, if somewhat uptight, rail-thin guy with thick glasses and an outdated hairstyle. Before I could voice my confusion, the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it.” I called out to Dad, and started for the front door, curious to see what this Paige person looked like.
I pulled the door open to see a petite girl holding a thick blue file folder. Her head was down when I opened the door, her wavy jet-black hair falling in her face, but when she looked up, her most striking feature, her eyes, glowed in the porch light. A smoky grey, almost silver color, accentuated by thick dark eyelashes. Was she Hawaiian? Or maybe from the South Pacific somewhere?
“Hello, I’m Paige, Professor Reed’s teaching assistant.” The words were friendly enough, but the small smile that crossed her lips seemed forced.
“Hi, I’m his daughter, Hannah.” I stepped aside so she could come into the house, but she kept her feet planted firmly on the porch.
She lifted up the blue folder. “I have the reports he wanted.”
“Great. I can take those.” I held out my hand, but Paige hesitated. She glanced past me into the house, and then slowly handed the file over, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “Does your father need anything else while I’m here?”
“I think he has a book for you.”
Dad rounded the corner and joined us just as the words came out of my mouth. “Good evening Paige. Thanks for bringing the papers over for me.” Dad moved into the doorway and I took another step back.
Paige’s smile grew. “No problem Professor Reed. I’m happy to do it.” I looked from him to her and narrowed my eyes. I had always thought my dad was a fairly attractive guy, with his thick brown hair, and neatly trimmed beard and moustache. Even the blazers he usually paired with jeans, and the thin-framed glasses he couldn’t see without, gave him a certain scholastic charm. Did Paige think the same way?
“I have that book you were asking about.” Dad handed her the text, and she turned it over in her hands.
“Thanks so much. This is great. I should let you get back to whatever you were doing, though.” She backed away towards the porch stairs.
“Have a good evening.” Dad waved and shut the door.
“I thought your teaching assistant was some guy named Greg.” I raised an eyebrow and handed over the research papers.
“It was. Greg Darrio was his name, but out of the blue, two weeks into the semester, he up and disappeared on me. He left me a note saying that he’d been given a grant to study in Scotland, and that he had to leave immediately. He didn’t even have the decency to tell me in person, and left me scrambling to find a replacement. Funny enough, Paige showed up and applied for the position before I had even put the word out to my students that I needed a new T.A. She said she’d overheard Greg talking about leaving, and wanted to submit her name as a replacement before someone else snatched up the opportunity to work with such a brilliant mind. I knew she was using flattery to butter me up, but she is proving to be a worthwhile choice.” Dad took a step towards the living room.
“She’s much prettier than Greg,” I teased as I put a hand on the railing, ready to go upstairs and call it a night.
He quickly turned to look at me, his expression appalled, but the lines on his face relaxed when he realized I was joking. “She is a student, so I have no opinion on the matter.” Dad hadn’t even been on a date since Mom died, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I would do if he did meet someone. I felt comfortable teasing, only because I didn’t believe he would start dating again.
“Alright, I’ll never mention it again.” I nodded slowly. “I’m going to take a crack at my homework. Have a good night.”
I pursed my lips as I walked upstairs, the exchange with Paige at the front door playing over in my mind. Something about her struck me as odd. It was likely all in my head, but there was something in the face of Dad’s new teaching assistant, in those mysterious eyes, that I just didn’t trust.