Sunday, August 18, 2013

POPULAR by SUMMER DAY (chapter two: the boy next door)

Chapter Two
The Boy Next Door
    The night after Phoebe’s wedding, Ethan arrived at our house for dinner as usual.
I was sitting glumly at my desk, the one overlooking the swimming pool, trying to resolve a difficult match, when Ethan snuck up behind me, put his hands over my eyes and said, “Honey! What scheme are you working on now?”
    “It’s very rude of you to sneak up on me, Ethan. I thought you’d be busy impressing your new girlfriend...”
     “First of all, your dad said I could come up. Second of all, Gigi is not really my girlfriend… yet. And you are extremely judgmental, Honey Woodhouse. I expect better of a girl who has been given so many advantages.”
    I rolled my eyes.
    “Besides, you’re the one who left the door open, practically inviting me in,” he added.
    “You know you always have an open invitation to raid our pantry and play repeated versions of Star Trek on the flat screen. Even so, a gentleman would knock!”
    “Honey, sometimes I wonder what century you live in. I’m not trying to be ‘a gentleman’ as you put it.”
    “Well, that’s good Ethan because it says here in an online etiquette manual circa 1888 that, ‘a gentleman always knocks and opens doors for a lady.’”
    Ethan looked at me and smiled.
     “Mmm… Since Phoebe and Mark are on their vacation… What’s for dinner?” He asked.
     “Well, Daddy needs his nutrients so I was thinking of making him vegetarian lasagna but as it happens, he’s going to be working late and won’t appreciate a home cooked meal tonight. So, in Maria’s absence, I thought I’d order take out.”
     “Sounds good.”
     Ethan often came over for dinner. His favorite food is pizza, mine is Thai but we both like Chinese; a happy compromise.
     Daddy came in to collect something he’d forgotten, just as I was ordering.
    “It’s good to see you, Ethan,” my Dad said as he grabbed his cell. He was still in his office suit. Daddy is quite old but he still rushes around like a much younger man. He has a strong work ethic. He owns some big financial firm and they’ve been very busy recently trying not to lose their client’s money. I don’t know a whole lot more than that. Still, I wish Daddy would take it easy. I worry about him all the time.
     Ethan and I were slumped on the couch when daddy rushed out again. An old movie was playing on television: How to Marry a Millionaire. Marilyn looked so pretty in that – all the girls did then. I love old movies but Ethan likes it more when there are car chases and stuff blows up on screen.
     I began working on my dating plans during the commercial breaks as we waited for the food delivery.   
     When the take out arrived, I snapped shut my dating journal – filled with notes I was taking to formulate my plan of action for the month.
    Ethan smiled with self-satisfaction.
    “I didn’t want you to dine alone for the first night in six months.”
     I smiled at Ethan. He was, it has to be said, kind of cute in repose.
    The dining room table had been set especially by our housekeeper Maria who always set a special place for Ethan. Now that Ethan’s cousin had married my babysitter and neighbor, I felt we were officially non-blood relatives and Ethan acted all protective and critical sometimes – just like I imagined an older brother might.
    Of course, I rarely approved of the girls he chose to date but until he asked my advice (something I was hoping he might do soon) he’d just have to suffer in silence. Without a plan of action, well, Ethan was just like a swimmer in an ocean or a driver without a map. He needed me. He just didn’t know it, yet.
      I served the first course: mini-vegetarian crispy spring rolls with extra soy sauce - delicious.
      The whole meal was full of the best Chinese food I’d ever tasted: wantons, crispy chicken, duck pancakes and even delicious vegetables with noodles. Ethan seemed intent on watching television all through the meal. After we finished eating, I moved to the couch to plan my first day of the new semester on my tablet.
     I love my fashion app and started ordering clothes online while I ate dessert (delicious fried vanilla ice cream with real caramel syrup and added berries for goodness – yum). I was onto my second last mouthful before I was due to swap for some healthy fruit salad when Ethan got up from the couch and started reading over my shoulder.
    “I can’t believe you order clothes without trying them on first!”
    I shut my tablet down really quickly. Ethan thinks I’m fabulously extravagant but I do earn my own money (babysitting and working at the shelter) – at least enough to make a contribution.
    “It’s on sale,” I said, reluctantly deleting the image of a fluffy pink coat as a possible purchase. “And I can’t believe that along with your private school education you haven’t learned any manners. At my school, the boys would never do that.”
     “Mmm…” Ethan said, “That’s good to know.”
     Reading over a person’s shoulder is just plain rude. How often do I have to tell you this? No girl is going to respond to your impolite behavior.”
    “Well, as it happens many girls already have.”
    I pulled a face, so over Ethan’s boasting about what a chick magnet he is. 
    Ethan smiled and shrugged as my father’s kind voice interrupted Ethan’s harassing one. My father had arrived home earlier than expected.       
     “Ethan has some news for you, Honey,” my father explained as he cleared his throat.
     “Oh really? Has Gigi absconded and splashed photos of him falling asleep in class with drool all over his cheek on Twitter?”
     Ethan laughed.
     “No Honey, I’m coming to spend my junior year at Sunrise High.”
     “You can’t be serious?”
     I sat up straighter than usual on my couch and adjusted my designer boots.
     “Excuse me? Do my ears need cleaning? Am I hearing right? Perhaps I need to check my audio…”
     “Honey, don’t be rude. Ethan is going to need your friendship. You should help him fit in on his first day, too. Aren’t you heading the social committee?”
    Ethan laughed out loud as if to say, it’s Honey’s help I could probably do most without!
     “Why are you invading my school?” I asked, trying desperately to remain calm. It was clear, in such close proximity, Ethan would be all over my social plans like pasta sauce. He’d see right through every one of my matchmaking ideas and decide I was far more scheming than I really am. He wouldn’t understand at all how my friends have come to rely on my good opinions; recommendations about what to read, what to see at the movies and of course my fantastic dating advice. 
    “My physics teacher is transferring to Bel Air. Since he’s a great teacher and physics is important to my grades, I thought I’d save my parents the extra tuition and transfer along with him for junior year. Gigi is transferring from HSYL. She likes the drama program.”
     “Gigi? What sort of name is that?”
     “The name of a future star. Jealous?”
     “Whatevvs.” Ethan knew I wasn’t totally into the drama program but it’s where I made a lot of contacts. I had no desire to actually act, of course. I was far more interested in real life.
     “Are you seriously coming to Sunrise?
     He put on a glum face and nodded.
     “Then you should know, my group is all about socializing. You’ll be like a pariah if all you want to do is talk about boring stuff like math and science. Do you even listen to music, Ethan? Are you into fashion? Reality TV? I just don’t think you’ll fit in with my crowd.”
     Ethan laughed again as he stood up, “I’m a junior. I don’t wanna ‘fit in’ with your crowd,” Ethan laughed. “Either way, I think I’ll survive.”
     “Yes, but will I?” I asked under my breath.   
     My father was all impressed by Ethan’s dedication to study and had so many references and internships lined up for him he made me look positively under-busy.
     I had the entire month of October planned down to the finest details - everything that led up to Dance Fangdango (This year the autumn dance had a vampire theme – original, I know). The dance was the highlight of the school social calendar during the first half of the year. I hadn’t anticipated the Ethan factor.