Instead, I go to sleep soundly, believing I will do better tomorrow. Things will be better tomorrow. I’ll figure this all out tomorrow.
Tomorrow is, for me, a brand-new day.
I wake up to a bright, sunny room and a ringing phone.
“Ethan!” I whisper into the phone. “It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday morning!”
“Yeah,” he says, his gritty voice made grittier by the phone. “But you’re still on East Coast time. It’s noon for you. You should be up.”
I continue to whisper. “OK, but Gabby and Mark are still sleeping.”
“When do I get to see you?” he says.
I met Ethan in my sophomore year of high school at Homecoming.
I was still living at home with my parents. Gabby was offered a babysitting job that night and decided to take it instead of going to the dance. I ended up going by myself, not because I wanted to go but because my dad teased me that I never went anywhere without her. I went to prove him wrong.
I stood at the wall for most of the night, killing time until I could leave. I was so bored that I thought about calling Gabby and persuading her to join me once her babysitting gig was over. But Jesse Flint was slow-dancing with Jessica Campos all night in the middle of the dance floor. And Gabby loved Jesse Flint, had been pining away for him since high school began. I couldn’t do that to her.
As the night wore on and couples started making out in the dimly lit gym, I looked over at the only other person standing against the wall. He was tall and thin, with rumpled hair and a wrinkled shirt. His tie was loose. He looked right back at me. And then he walked over to where I was standing and introduced himself.
“Ethan Hanover,” he said, putting out his hand.
“Hannah Martin,” I said, putting out my own to grab his.
He was a junior at another school. He told me he was just there as a favor to his neighbor, Katie Franklin, who didn’t have a date. I knew Katie fairly well. I knew she was a lesbian who wasn’t ready to tell her parents. The whole school knew that she and Teresa Hawkins were more than just friends. So I figured I wasn’t hurting anyone by flirting with the boy she brought for cover.
But pretty soon I found myself forgetting anyone else was even at the dance in the first place. When Katie did finally come get him and suggest it was time to go, I felt as if something was being taken from me. I was tempted to reach out and grab him, to claim him for myself.
Ethan had a party at his parents’ house the next weekend and invited me. Gabby and I didn’t normally go to big parties, but I made her come. He perked up the minute I walked in the door. He grabbed my hand and introduced me to his friends. I lost track of Gabby somewhere by the Tostitos.
Soon Ethan and I had ventured upstairs. We were sitting on the top step of the staircase, hip to hip, talking about our favorite bands. He kissed me there, in the dark, the wild party happening just underneath our feet.
“I only threw a party so I could call you and invite you,” he said to me. “Is that stupid?”
I shook my head and kissed him again.
When Gabby came and found me an hour or so later, my lips felt swollen, and I knew I had a hickey.
We lost our virginity to each other a year and a half later. We were in his bedroom when his parents were out of town. He told me he loved me as I lay underneath him, and he kept asking if it was OK.
Some people talk about their first time as a hilarious or pathetic experience. I can’t relate. Mine was with someone I loved, someone who also had no idea what we were doing. The first time I had sex, I made love. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Ethan for that very reason.
And then everything fell apart. He got into UC Berkeley. Sarah got into the Royal Ballet School, and my parents packed up and moved to London. I moved in with the Hudsons. And then, one balmy August morning a week before the beginning of my senior year of high school, Ethan got into his parents’ car and left for Northern California.
We made it until the end of October before we broke up. At the time, we assured each other that it was just because the timing was wrong and the distance was hard. We told each other we’d get back together that summer. We told each other it didn’t change anything; we were still soul mates.
But it was no different from the same old song and dance at every college every fall.
I started considering schools in Boston and New York, since living on the East Coast would make it easier to get to London. When Ethan came home for Christmas, I was dating a guy named Chris Rodriguez. When Ethan came home for the summer, he was dating a girl named Alicia Foster.
When I got into Boston University, that was the final nail.
Soon there was more than three thousand miles between us and no plan to shorten the distance.
Ethan and I have occasionally kept in touch, a phone call here or there, a dance or two at mutual friends’ weddings. But there has always been an unspoken tension. There is always this sense that we haven’t followed through on our plan.
He still, all these years later, shines brighter to me than other people. Even after I got over him, I was never able to extinguish the fire completely, as if it’s a pilot light that will remain small and controlled but very much alive.
“You’ve been in this city for twelve hours, according to my calculations,” Ethan says. “And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you be here for twelve more without seeing me.”
I laugh. “Well, we’ll be cutting it close, I think,” I say to him. “Gabby says there is some bar in Hollywood that we should go to tonight. She invited a whole bunch of friends from high school, so I can see everybody again. She’s calling it a housewarming. Which makes no sense. I don’t know.”
Ethan laughs. “Text me the time and place, and I will be there.”
“Awesome. Sounds great.”
I start to say good-bye, but his voice chimes in again. “Hey, Hannah,” he says.
“I’m glad you decided to come home.”
I laugh. “Well, I was running out of cities.”
“I don’t know,” he says. “I like to think you’ve just come to your senses.”
I am pulling things out of my suitcase and flinging them around the guest room. “I swear I will clean this up,” I say to Gabby and Mark. They are dressed and standing by the door. They have been ready to go for at least ten minutes.
“It’s not a fashion show,” Gabby says.
“It’s my first night back in Los Angeles,” I remind her. “I want to look good.”
I had on a black shirt and black jeans, with long earrings and, of course, a high bun. But then I thought, you know, this isn’t New York anymore. This is L.A. It was sixty degrees out this afternoon.
“I just want to find a tank top,” I say. I start filtering through the clothes I have already thrown across the room. I find a teal shell tank and throw it on. I slip on my black heels. I look in the mirror and fix my bun. “I promise I will clean this all up when we get back.”
I can see Mark laughing at me. He knows I sometimes don’t do exactly what I say I’ll do. No doubt, when Gabby asked him if I could stay here, she prepared him by saying, “She will probably throw her stuff all over the place.” Also, I have no doubt he said that was OK. So I don’t feel too bad.
But I don’t think that is why Mark is laughing, actually. He says, “For someone so disorganized, you look very pulled together.”
Gabby smiles at him and then at me. “You do. You look, like, glowy.” She grabs the doorknob and then says, “But looks aren’t the measure of a woman.” She can’t stop herself. This political correctness is just a part of who she is. I love her for that.
“Thank you both,” I say as I follow them to their car.
When we get to the bar, it’s fairly quiet. Gabby and Mark sit down, and I go up to get our drinks. I order beers for Mark and me and a glass of chardonnay for Gabby. The bill comes to twenty-four dollars, and I hand over my credit card. I don’t know how much money I have in my account, because I’m afraid to look. But I know I have enough to live for a few weeks and get an apartment. I don’t want to be a person who nickels-and-dimes, especially when Mark and Gabby have been sweet enough to give me a place to stay, so I just put it out of my head.