Chapter 5

Ethan

Corey mouths a reply to me, but the pressing crowds that have swallowed Robyn's retreating figure has also swallowed any noise other than screaming. Corey motions to the stairs to the stage, and I nod, glancing backwards once to the doors that are swinging shut behind her, and then follow him in the opposite direction.

We finally escape the throngs of people and I follow Corey backstage, who shaking his head as he rants.

"I don't think you understand what I'm saying," he says. "Not only does she have a boyfriend, but she is way out of your league, man."

I stop walking, bracing my hands on a stacked pile of chairs. "What do you mean; 'she's out of my league'? I don't mean to be cocky or anything, but I am Ethan Kyler. Girls normally won't leave me alone!"

Corey looks frustrated, his face bearing no sign of the usual brightness. "Dude, she's out of everyone's league! You should see her. She's not really friends with anybody except for Amber, and she's always so…distant. She's super smart but doesn't show it, she's freaking gorgeous, and really nice. So yes, she's out of your league. Even if you're Ethan freaking Kyler."

"Then if she's out of everyone's league, how did some guy manage to snag her?"

Corey looks at me sideways. "I'm guessing you don't remember Logan?"

I screw my eyes shut, trying to remember back to middle school. "He was the really quiet one…yeah?"

Corey nods. "Yeah. Except when we got to high school, he got really popular. Trust me, if Robyn's the 'perfect girl' then Logan's the dictionary definition of the 'perfect guy'. I play soccer with him, and they're always together, ever since they started dating at the end of junior year. Sorry dude, but you've got zero chance. Zip. Nada. None—"

I hold my hands up. "Okay, okay! I get it! I'm obviously inadequate." I glance around the deserted backstage area, the muted screaming enough to make my head start to pound again.

"But maybe," I say tentatively, "Maybe I can try to be friends with her again?"

Corey looks at me, and I can't meet his eyes. He whistles through his teeth. "Man, you are setting yourself up for some heartbreak. Elsa may be the ice queen, but Robyn can be the freaking ice dictator if she doesn't like something…" He gives me a sideways glance. "Or someone…"

I rub my eyes. "Right. Okay. Why wouldn't she like me? All the girls like me!"

He chuckles. "Is that your excuse for everything?"

I punch him in the shoulder, grinning. "Maybe."

He grins back at me, flashing white teeth, and slaps me on the back. "I've gotta go. My mom has bus duty and I'm slotted to help. But I'll see you tomorrow!"

"Alright, see you later."

I return his wave as he jogs to the exit. He opens the door to the outside, and twists around, cupping his hands around his mouth.

"By the way, your performance went really well!"

"Thank you!" I shout, grinning as the door clangs shut.

The grin melts from my face as my phone starts to buzz. I fumble for my cell and see Kevin's name flash across the screen. I hit the answer button and bring the phone to my ear.

"Hey, it's Ethan."

"Hey kiddo, how's it going?"

"Pretty solid. What's up?"

"I just wanted to hear how the concert went."

"It was okay."

I can almost hear the frown in his voice as he responds. "Just okay?"

I sigh. "Kev, not everything needs to be peaches and cream. The school's great, I think they like me, so that's really all that matters."

I hear a chuckle "What's not to like?"

I switch the phone to the other ear as I sit on one of the school issued chairs. "I know right?"

"So how has your inspiration experiment been going?"

I groan. "Jeez Kevin, cut me some slack, I've been here all of four days and you're gonna remind me about it already? Give me some time to settle in!"

He sighs. "I know, I just worry about you."

"You old mother hen, you of all people know I can take care of myself right?"

He laughs. "I know. Hey kiddo, your dad is here, he wants to talk to you. I'm gonna pass the phone to you alright?"

Soon, my dad's gruff voice comes on the phone. "Hey sport, how's it going?"

I smile in spite of myself. "Hey Dad. Everything's great."

"School was okay?"

I nod, forgetting he can't see me. "Uh yeah, it was great. Met lots of new people."

He sighs. "Good, good. Alright, well I just wanted to check in, I'll talk to you later, okay?"

I smile. "Okay. See you."

He hangs up, and I rise, finally going to the door Corey left through almost twenty minutes ago. By now, the crowd has become a trickle, and only a few people still linger around the doors to the auditorium. I don my ever present sunglasses and keep my head low as I walk to my car and get in, hoping that the drive home will clear my thoughts enough to stop thinking about Robyn and start thinking up lyrics for the next Ethan Kyler top 10 Billboard hit.


I grip the pencil so hard I can feel the strain in my fingers.

The white paper is oblivious to my frustration, as well as the object of it. Its blankness mocks me, taunting me to put words to a page, but I can't think of a single thing except for auburn hair and angry eyes.

I shoot up, my eyes wild. Wait, angry eyes? That could be something…

I write "Angry Eyes" in big letters at the top of the page and wait for inspiration to hit.

I tap my pencil. Five minutes pass, and I'm no better than when I started an hour ago.

I sigh, throwing my pencil across the room. It twangs off the dresser and clatters to the floor. Good thing my mom is working late. Otherwise she probably would've been in here by now, wondering what in the world was wrong with me.

What is wrong with me? Suddenly, the room that had seemed cozy a few days ago is suffocating me, the walls closing in. I blink hard, twice, and the illusion is gone.

I shake my head. Maybe I'm sleep deprived. But I'm also too wired up to sleep, and need to move. I grab my keys from where they're still sprawled on my desk, walk out of the front door.

In the time I've spent inside, the sky has darkened into dusky blues and burnt oranges that accentuate the coming of night. The moon is beginning to creep out, its light shining faintly over the yard as it swallows the sunset.

I grab the steering wheel in a white knuckled grip after starting the car. Where to go? I'm not even sure I can find the way back if I go anywhere after proving myself to be directionally challenged when trying to find the high school, but I used to live here. I can figure it out. Right?

I start driving, going wherever my memory takes me. After around five minutes of driving, a large red brick house with a white wraparound porch catches my eye. It strains at the depths of my memory, and I slow, craning my neck to remember that house…

The house is completely darkened except for a single light in the top right corner, shining through white curtains. And then I realize where I know this house from.

I groan, dropping my head to the steering wheel. Which hits the horn hard enough to wake the dead. I shoot up, putting the car in park and turning the headlights off as the curtains rustle and I see a figure peek through, searching for the noise.

The auburn hair piled on top of her head confirms my suspicions. Robyn. Of course. Just my luck.

I lean down, praying to every power I know that she won't see me parked outside of her house like the creepy stalker I'm sure she imagines that I am. I'd never hear the end of that one.

Finally, her form retreats, and I can breathe easily again.

I lean back in the seat. Why does she hate me so much?

I wrack my brain, but I can't remember any single terrible thing I did before I left. She was my best friend. When I left, we promised to keep in touch, but we were young, and it proved harder than I imagined, when we didn't live a bike ride away from each other. I close my eyes, and try to remember the day I left.

We were thirteen, almost fourteen, and Robyn was standing across from me in the yard, her arms crossed and her face set in a pout I knew she was stubborn enough to hold for hours if necessary.

I threw my arms up the first to break. "What do you want me to do?"

She stuck her lip out. "You know very well what I want Ethan. I want you to stay. You can't leave me here. You can't!"

I rolled my eyes. "You're being dramatic."

"And you're being mean, what's new?"

I took a deep breath. "Look, I won't be gone long. Plus, we can still be friends."

She raised an eyebrow, a gesture she had gotten scarily good at over the past few years. "Uh huh. And how do you suppose we do that? With our banana phones?" She held up her hand in the call me signal, her face mocking.

I rolled my eyes. "Very funny. We can write each other. Here's my new address."

She sighed, and I could hear her muttering as she painstakingly copied the address from where I had written it on my hand.

She studied it for a second and then carefully folded the paper and stuck it in her pocket. Her face became soft, a strange expression for the fiery girl I had been friends with for years.

"Ethan, promise me you'll keep in touch, okay? I mean it when I say I can't lose you. Not now."

I nodded solemnly. "I promise."

The letters went back and forth regularly for a few months, but as I became more and more successful, I found less and less time to write. And, as fourteen year olds often do, I became nervous to even look at girls, let alone talk to them, and so I let her letters fall to the wayside, allowing myself to forget my promise. I ignored them when the steady stream of letters turned into a trickle, and then dried up completely.

I still have the letters. I couldn't bear to throw them away. Or read them. So they sit, unopened, in a bundle in my closet.

I pinch the bridge of my nose, sighing and cursing my idiotic fourteen year old self. No wonder she was upset with me. She thought I had abandoned her.

I sigh, closing my eyes, my mind finally blissfully quiet. Words come drifting lazily through my mind periodically.

She has angry eyes

Full of a thousand sighs

To see into my soul past my lies

And it's with those angry eyes that she tells me goodbye

My eyes fly open as I realize they're lyrics, and that finally, after years, I've written something that sounds like a song.

I scramble for paper and a pen, the lyrics floating in my mind, hitting the horn loudly in the process for the second time that night. As I scribble down the words, I see the curtains pull back as Robyn glares into the street.

I look at the words penned to the spare napkin I'd found and glance again at Robyn's window as she shuts the curtain again.

I start the car and shake my head as I leave. Those angry eyes directed at me is a sight I'd like to avoid for a good while longer.


Robyn

I storm out of the auditorium, wishing the double doors would slam. Instead they eased shut behind me, a mechanism slowing them to a stop.

Why was he here? After all this time, he decided now would be a good time to show up?

I lean against the wall, craning my neck for Amber. I would like to race out of here, but I also don't have a car. I pinch the bridge of my nose, exhaling sharply. Of all the terrible horrible things to happen…

For once, I don't notice Amber until she's standing in front of me, waving her arms in front of my face.

"Helloooooo? Anyone in there?"

I lift my startled eyes to hers and smile sheepishly. "Sorry Ames. Lost in thought I guess."

She smirks, punching my arm as we begin to exit the school, following the flow of students. "Thinking about Ethan?"

I wince. "No, most definitely not."

Amber laughs. "Then that makes you the only one! I swear, half the student body was practically drooling." She nudges me as we exit into the sunshine. "And you, my friend, got to get up close and personal!" She wiggles her eyebrows, making me laugh.

"Weren't you the one telling me the other day that you wanted to live vicariously through my boyfriend? Who is not Ethan Kyler?"

She shrugs. "People change."

"None faster than you, my friend!" We laugh, and she punches me in the shoulder before unlocking the car and starting the ignition.

Later that night, I'm sitting on my bed at home, holding the SD card to my camera gingerly in the palm of my hand. My computer sits innocently on the edge of my bed, unaware of how much I am dreading this.

I sigh, popping the SD card in. I've really gotta be more selective with my assignments from now on.

I open the file, and the pictures pop up in the folder. I scroll down, mentally categorizing them. I must've taken at least fifty, if not more.

I double click a picture that catches my eye, and I huff. It's a close up of Ethan, and his eyes are shut, the lighting catching the soft panels of his face and casting the right side of his face into shadow. Why are some people so incredibly photogenic? It's unfair.

I click through the rest of the photos, saving the ones that catch my eye, and deleting the ones that are bad or mediocre. At the end, I have about seven great ones, and five decent ones. More than enough for the parameters of the assignments. After editing them, I email them to the school's photography account.

I close out the programs and a folder catches my eye.

Final Project

I open it up, and it's dated four years ago. I bite my lip, chewing on it absentmindedly as I remember the project.

I whirled around in my seat before class began with a smile on my face. "Betcha five bucks you can't recite our Shakespeare homework for today."

Ethan groaned, running his fingers through his messy blonde hair. "That was today?"

I nodded, trailing my fingers across the desk. "You're so dead…" I whisper in a sing-song voice.

He looked at me wide-eyed. "I will be if she finds out!" Mrs. Patterson began the lesson and I turned around in my seat, smiling evilly.

"Hide me!" He whispered, and it took all of my self-control not to laugh.

Mrs. Patterson clears her throat, and we all look up to where she has drawn "FINAL" across the board in large letters. Mrs. Patterson has been our Literature teacher for years. Her son Christian is in our grade, and she moves up a grade each year so she can teach his class. With how small our school is, they allow it. I just wondered how she'll manage next year, when we all move to the high school.

"Now, I know this is highly unusual for this class, but I will be postponing your project for another day."

I rolled my eyes, not needing to glance back to know that Ethan was silently celebrating behind me.

"I've decided to create a final project for all of you, a time capsule of sorts that you can look back and remember this year by."

She goes on to outline the project, and instructed us to partner up as she passed out slips of paper.

Ethan tugged on my hair and I turned around. "What?"

"Partners?" He asked, and I nodded.

The paper landed on my desk and I rotate so that Ethan and I can both read the options for our time capsule entry.

"Webcast?" He read, pointing to the option. I read through the instructions, trailing my finger down the side of the paper.

"Yeah, this could work. Let's do it."

I double click the first video, and watch as his old bedroom comes into focus.

"One, Two, Three, aaaaand action." Says my fourteen year old voice.

Ethan glances up from where he sits on the bed, his guitar in hand. He plucks at the strings nervously, his shaggy blonde hair falling in his eyes. "Um, so this is a song I like to call Discover. Written by Robyn Baxter and Ethan Kyler."

He begins to strum his guitar and sings the first notes. I want to turn the video off, but I'm transfixed by the lyrics that Ethan and I painstakingly slaved over.

The world is such a big place

And it makes me feel so small

And sometimes I wonder

If what I do matters at all

I wish I could look inside myself

And find the things I want to say

To be the person I'm meant to be

And discover what it means to be me

I pause the video, swallowing the lump that appears in my throat. I want to click on more of the videos, but the memory of the songs that took Ethan away from me, that severed our friendship makes me wince. Him being here only dredges up memories I'd like nothing better to forget, now that I've moved on from him.

I shut the laptop, stretching before I begin the pile of work from the classes I was absent from today.

The house is quieter than usual. My parents are on a date, Katy is staying at a friend's house near the college she attends, and Sarah and Bryan are already asleep. It's a perfect atmosphere to trudge through my homework from Literature, Spanish, Biology, and the worst, Calculus.

I'm struggling through a really complicated math problem when the blast of a horn interrupts my thoughts, scattering my concentration. What in the world?

The sound is long and drawn out, and it takes a good three seconds before all is quiet again. I stand, my muscles protesting at the sudden movement. I peek through the curtains and all is dark and quiet, the streetlights quietly illuminating the cars parked in the street. I let the curtains flow shut and go to the mirror, rubbing at the dark circles that have appeared under my eyes. My eyes stare at me through the glass. I need more sleep.

I've just put away my school work and am about to turn off the lamp when the horn goes off again, more drawn out than the last time.

I roll my eyes; stalking to the window and yanking open the curtain. I glare outside, hoping to catch whoever is making so much noise at this time of night, but once again, everything is peaceful. I sigh, deciding that I am way too paranoid before shutting off my lamp and settling in bed. I fall asleep to vivid dreams full of the song Ethan and I wrote together twining through scenes from our childhood.


A/N

Hello everyone! Sorry for the wait, everything has been insane! I'll try to be more regular from now on! Thank you for everyone's continued support throughout it all.

xoxo,

Anna