Hleo

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Chapter 9

The next morning I hit the snooze button on my alarm one too many times. I grabbed a random outfit off my chair, threw it on, ran to the bathroom to brush my teeth and threw my hair into a ponytail while the toothbrush was still in my mouth. I checked the time on my phone and my heart sank. There was almost no way I was going to get to school on time.

The classes at East Halton High rotated through a cycle, I supposed to keep things interesting, and I had English with Mr. Gunderson first that morning. I did not relish the thought of trying to convince him to let me into class late.

I grabbed my backpack and was about to run downstairs when I remembered that I didn’t have my car. I’d already missed the one town bus that passed by my house in the morning, so I grabbed my cell phone to call Katie, hoping she hadn’t left for school yet. As I listened to the phone ring, I glanced out the window to check the weather. My car sat in the driveway in its usual spot. Frowning, I slipped my phone back into my pocket and headed downstairs to investigate.

I found the keys tucked up in the vanity mirror and a note on the dashboard that read:

I still had your keys, and thought you might need your car.

~ Ethan

I studied the neat handwriting. The note was concise, nothing to suggest this was anything more than a friend helping out a friend, but he had gone to the trouble of getting my car from Hartford at some point in the night, and returning it to me so I would be able to drive to school. I tried not to read too much into that as I drove, but I had a hard time keeping a pleased grin off my face.

I sprinted into English class out of breath, but thankfully Mr. Gunderson hadn’t arrived yet. Ethan was already sitting at his desk, with Ashley Jensen perched on top of it in a short plaid skirt. She was prattling on about her plans for the weekend, while Ethan politely listened to her talk. I was just going to walk by, but Ethan looked up and gave me a warm smile as I approached.

Well, if we’re going to do this friends thing there’s no time like the present to start.

“Thanks for returning my car.” I passed by his desk on the way to my own. The look on Ashley Jensen’s face as she tried to figure out what my cryptic message could mean almost made me laugh out loud.

“No problem, I thought you would want it for school today.” Ethan turned in his desk to face me.

I was about to respond when Mr. Gunderson walked in and cleared his throat, a signal for everyone to take his or her seat.

Ashley hopped off of Ethan’s desk and settled in beside him, shooting curious glances over at me as she did. I ignored her and opened my textbook to the correct chapter.

After class, Ethan waited for me to gather my things and then walked out of class with me. He really seemed to be serious about us being friends. Ashley joined us and we walked down the hall in an awkward threesome.

“So, why did Ethan have your car?” Ashley asked me casually, as though we were good friends.

“He ran into it, so he gave me a ride home.” I glanced over at Ethan but he just kept walking.

“Like, car accident ran into it?” Ashley blinked, stopping at my locker when I did. Ethan stopped too, and leaned against the locker beside mine, apparently waiting for me. It made sense, since we had biology together next, but it was a lot more attention than he’d given me the entire time he’d been at the school so it caught me a bit off guard. Ashley seemed surprised too, and looked back and forth from the two of us uncertainly.

Ethan repositioned his messenger bag. “I wasn’t paying attention and I ran into the back of her car at a stoplight.”

“Oh.” After a moment of silence, Ashley walked away down the hall, probably as confused as I felt over Ethan’s actions.

I grabbed my book from my locker and swung the metal door shut, ready to get to class as quickly as possible. I wanted to keep Ethan away from Katie in case she said something embarrassing, or in her mind, helpful.

The rest of the day went by in a blur. I barely ate anything for lunch, although Ethan took off after biology and was nowhere to be seen.

Art class came next. My sketches were ready to transfer onto the canvas boards I’d bought, but I’d left them in the backseat of my car. I let Ms. Woods know that I would be right back, and made my way out the fire exit door at the back of the art room and into the student parking lot.

It was a brisk fall day, sunny but cold, and since I only had a sweater on, I jogged to my car.

I was halfway across the parking lot, when suddenly an image appeared in my mind. A handsome gentleman led a young woman by the hand up a flight of stone stairs on the outside of a building, a starry sky behind them. A long, cream-colored dress flowed around her ankles, and the man wore an old-fashioned suit. Both wore masquerade masks, but his was pushed up onto his forehead.

The woman looked back over her shoulder, as though making sure no one was watching them as they escaped for a romantic interlude. The picture had a hazy, dream-like quality about it. None of the details were sharply in focus, and it was set in sepia tones, lending a twilight feel to the scene.

The actual location of the image looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on where it was, possibly some historical landmark. I was lost in the vision, excited by the stroke of imagination, when the honk of a car horn brought me back to reality. I realized that I was standing right in the middle of the parking lot, blocking another student’s path to a parking space.

Ethan’s right. As I stepped back to let the car pass, I realized I really did blank on what I was doing or where I was when I got an image in my head. A shiver ran up my spine. He was so perceptive.

I grabbed the canvases and hurried back inside so I could get the new image down before the end of class. I got so into my work I barely noticed the bell ring. Ms. Woods offered to let me stay and work through the next period, since the room would be empty. I accepted eagerly. I could afford to miss one history class.

When the last period of the day ended, I reluctantly put my new piece away and went to my locker. Ethan and Katie stood in front of it, talking. Oh no. I hurried over to them. What could she be saying to him?

“Hey guys, what’s up?” I tried to sound relaxed. Ethan leaned against my locker and moved aside as I approached. He looked a little relieved to see me, and I guessed he was wondering why I’d skipped history, but he didn’t ask. I spun the combination of my lock as smoothly as possible, and opened the door to grab my homework for the weekend.

“Ethan wanted directions for tonight,” Katie explained.

My forehead creased. “Directions?”

“To my house.” Katie gave me an innocent smile.

Ryan came up behind Katie and slung an arm across her shoulders. “Why, are you cheating on Luke?” He laughed.

She slipped out from under his arm. “Yeah, right, loser. No, I’ve invited Ethan to join us for movie night tonight, and he has graciously accepted.”

“Really?” I spun around to study Ethan.

Ryan frowned. “You don’t have a date or something?”

“No I don’t, and it sounds like fun, hanging out with you guys.” Ethan lifted his shoulders lightly.

Katie tapped my upper arm. “I thought that since Ethan already knows where you live, he could pick you up and the two of you could come together. There aren’t many parking spaces in our driveway and one less vehicle would keep my parents from freaking out.”

Although her logic was sound, I clenched my teeth to keep from warning her to back off. Before I had a chance to react to Katie’s proposal, or to hear Ethan’s response, Madison Granger, one of Ashley Jensen’s less-than-pleasant cronies, sauntered up to Ethan, ignoring the rest of us.

“Hey Ethan, a bunch of us are going to Jenny’s parents’ cabin for the weekend, and I wondered if you wanted to come with us, you know, if you’re free.” Madison made a point of arching her back and sticking out her chest.

“I’m available,” Ryan offered over Ethan’s shoulder.

“Obviously.” Madison glanced at Ryan for a second with a

look of bored disdain, before turning back to Ethan.

“I actually have other plans Madison, but thank you for the invitation.” Ethan gave me a half smile. Madison followed his gaze, shot me a disgusted look, and walked away.

“Man, I would trade places with you in a second,” Ryan exclaimed, moving to stand next to Ethan. “It’s not even so much what she asked as how she asked; that was amazing to watch.”

I narrowed my eyes at him.

“You don’t want a girl like that Ryan, she’s all surface and no substance, trust me.” Ethan clapped a hand on Ryan’s shoulder. “I need to get going; are you ready?” He turned to me.

Did his wise words allude to past experience? I shoved back the thought. “Sure,” I replied and we walked out to the parking lot together.

Ethan’s Jeep was parked two cars down from mine. I tried to remember if that’s where it had been earlier, but I’d been in such a hurry to retrieve the canvases, I hadn’t paid attention.

“What time should I pick you up this evening?” Ethan stood by my car while I unlocked the door.

I threw my bag in the backseat and turned to look at him. “We normally get together sometime before eight, so if you want to pick me up at seven-thirty that would be fine.” I bit my lip. Why couldn’t I just loosen up and relax around him? Maybe because you’re constantly fighting the urge to slip your arms around his waist and kiss him.

“Sounds good; I’ll see you then.” Ethan walked over to his Jeep, but he didn’t get in until I was in my car and driving away. His parents had really taught him how to be a gentleman. As I drove home I contemplated what I should wear. I didn’t want to be too dressed up, or my friends would make fun of me, but I wanted to look good. I could strangle Katie for adding this stress to my life, but at the same time I smiled. I was spending the evening with Ethan Flynn.

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