I wrote this story senior year of high school, and while there are a lot of things about it that I'm no longer completely satisfied with, I still think it's not a bad story, overall. Enjoy.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

I'm the president of a fan club.

I'm the president of a fan club. It's not like my career or anything, it's just something I do in my spare time, which I seem to be having a lot of lately. Spare time, that is. I don't know why I used to be so busy. It's not like I spent all that much time studying, so the fact that I graduated a year and a half ago can't have much to do with it. I guess I don't work a lot, compared to some people. I'm a cashier at the local candy store, and in the summer I scoop ice cream too. I work 10 am to 8 pm and I get an hour lunch break. Plus weekends off. I like working there, you should see the smiles on the kids' faces when their parents buy them candy. I like to pretend I'm like Willy Wonka, even though all I really do is bag the candy and weigh it and ring people up, Maureen and Dave make it all in the back. I guess someday they might show me how, but I don't really want to work here that long. They're in their sixties, this is their life, and to tell you the truth I've always had higher hopes for myself than learning how to make coffee creams and maple twisties. It's good candy and all, I'm glad to sell it, but someday I want to have a real job. Like a career. I want to be someone like Ethan.

Oh yeah, that's what I was going to tell you about in the first place. Ethan is what this fan club I'm president of is for. And just because it's not a career doesn't mean it doesn't take up a lot of my time. I mean there's the monthly newsletter to get out, the tee-shirts to sell, autographs to coerce him into giving me...

...what I felt for him couldn't exactly have been called a crush yet...

It all started out as sort of a joke, would you believe it? We were driving around one night, me and my best friend Trysta, and Ethan, and some other people, like Trysta's flavor-of-the-month boyfriend, and someone else it doesn't really matter. It was the summer before my senior year, and Trysta was driving and her boyfriend was riding shotgun and me and Ethan and whoever else were all squished in the backseat of her little hatchback. I didn't really know Ethan then, I thought he was beautiful and everything but I sort of thought he had a bad attitude so what I felt for him couldn't exactly have been called a crush yet. And I'd only seen him play once. Ethan's the guitarist and lead singer for this band, and they're wonderful, well really only he is but I'm friends with the rest of the band, even though I think they get jealous sometimes because the fan club isn't really for them, it's just Ethan's, but anyway. So that night I wasn't really obsessed but I was definitely enjoying being squished next to him. I was silently begging Trysta to take curves a little too fast so Ethan would be pressed into me by the centrifugal force, if that's what it is, I was never good at science.
And we were talking, me and Ethan, as we drove, and his beautiful hazel eyes would stay magnetized to mine the whole time. But the minute the conversation would die down they'd start to drift away, out over the road, or somewhere, and so I was just trying to think of things to say to keep his eyes on mine because they were like a drug, they made me feel like dizzy, like when me and my sister were little and would have contests to see who could hold her breath the longest.

...I was just trying to think of things to say to keep his eyes on mine because they were like a drug...

I guess another thing you should know about me is that I love to make up stories, and to tell them to people like they're the truth. I don't mean lying, because they always know it's not true, so it's not like deceptive of me. But I make up things about how I know that guy who's sitting over there and how that's not really his daughter but he kidnapped her last week and how I know this because I was out for a walk and I just happened to be outside his window and... or maybe that you know, I went to Space Camp when I was younger and I met this cute boy there and how we made out in the zero gravity tank and wow was that an experience or maybe do you see that girl over there? She told me that she likes you, she's been stalking you for a month now, but she'd never admit it because she's too shy-- just really silly stuff like that. People seem to enjoy it because a lot of times they're not expecting it and it surprises them, but I don't really like it, I wish I could be more honest when I talk to people because even if they know I'm not telling the truth that doesn't make it okay, and I have friendships with people who I barely know, it feels like. No matter how hard we laugh or the fun times we have pretending that we don't speak english or maybe that we're fraternal twins, that doesn't mean too much if we don't really know each other that well for real. But I started thinking like this after I met Ethan, so on that night, with his eyes like mesmerizing me, all I was thinking was I need these eyes, I need this boy to keep paying attention to me.
So we were driving past the bank, and the digital thing flashed that it was 67 degrees but it felt hotter than that to me in that back seat pressed up against this mysterious boy with a voice like copper when it turns green -- I don't know why I thought of that when I first heard him sing in that smoky coffeehouse, but all I could picture was copper rooftops and copper rings and they were all turning green, like his voice was a chemical reaction making them change -- making everything change -- and so even if I thought I was being cautious maybe I'm sort of lying if I say I didn't have a crush on him that night. That's such an inadequate word though, crush, it's like an orange soft drink or what you do to the can after you're done drinking the orange soft drink, it's not the way I was feeling for him when I blurted out, "I'm the president of your fan club."
Well his eyes stayed on me when I said that and so I kept on with it. "I've got a big cardboard box at home full of tee-shirts with your face on them," I said, and I meant it in a silly flirty way, except I've never been too good at flirting, I've never been too good at lying either which I guess is why I do it so much, because people always know I'm lying when I am and sometimes think I'm lying when I'm not, but never the other way around, so I had to turn it into a joke, like, ha ha, you know you9re lying Genna, and I'd laugh at myself too.
All he said was "Really?" but his eyebrows raised a little and I thought I saw the faintest touch of a smile and the way he said it, he said it like he wanted to believe me.
I just nodded.
Then he looked away, and I didn't mind this time because I knew for at least a few more seconds, no matter where his eyes were, his thoughts were on me and on what I'd said.
We pulled into the gas station then, I think Trysta's boyfriend wanted something to eat and it's one of the ones with a little quicky mart attached. Ethan turned to look at me. "Can I have one?" he asked, smiling.
"One what?"
"One of the tee-shirts with me on it." His dimple was glinting. He had a dimple.
I knew he didn't really believe me, obviously I didn't have tee-shirts, I'd only seen him play the night before, but I really liked it that he was pretending. "No, no you can't," I said. "I'm sorry."
"Why not?" he pouted.
"Well," I said, pushing Trysta's seat forward and sliding out of the car, "don't you think it would be conceited of you to wear a tee-shirt with your own face on it?"
He was out of the car too now. He shut the door and walked with me into the gas station. I liked how we walked together, it was like our bodies were already in sync, maybe from touching so long in the car. I looked down at our feet and yes, we were in step, his brown doc martens and my smaller purple sneakers. "I wouldn't wear it," he said as he opened the door for me. "I'd just have it, as a souvenier, sort of."
"Oh, that makes more sense," I agreed, "but you still can't have one. Because they're all sold already. People pre-order them. You're pretty popular."
"Okay," he said. "Hey, do you want some Fritos?" He was holding up a bag.
I wrinkled my nose at him. "I've always hated Fritos. They taste like wet dog smells." Even then, I felt I had to balance all my stories with some honesty. Eating something you hate, just for a boy, is pushing it too far.
"Okay. Let's get something else then," he said.
Oh my god, I thought, he's not going to get the chips if I don't like them. He respects my opinions. So what if it's only cornchips we're talking about. He likes me!
We ended up getting Pringles, and I still can't eat them withough thinking of that night. He fed them to me back in the car and I thought something was happening. Maybe he was just being nice, or maybe he really did like me and something -- like my obsession -- made him change his mind. It makes me sad now, and I just want to go back to that night and tell him about my relationship with my mother, or my opinions on communism, or something, anything real. Because then, even if he had rejected me, he would have known. He would have known what he was rejecting. Maybe it would have hurt more, knowing that he was rejecting the real me, but I don't think it would have lasted this long. Because I was seventeen then, and now I'm nineteen and I'm still the president of this stupid fan club.
The phone rings and it's Dixie from teh athletic-wear shop where I get the tee-shirts screened, saying that the new ones are in. And sometimes I just want to wake up from this life and I start thinking, how did it get to this point?

: : : : : : : : :

After the Pringles, we went over to Trysta's house and watched a movie, and I don't even remember what it was because all I was watching was Ethan. By the time the movie was over and we had listened to Trysta's new CD that she just had to play, it was pretty late. Ethan said he had to go home because he had band practice in the morning and I couldn't think of anything to say to make him stay or to ask him somehow if he'd had a good time meeting me because in real life people don't just say, "It was really nice to meet you. When will I see you again?"
So I just watched as he and Trysta's boyfriend walked out to the car, and god I loved the way he walked, his shoulderblades slipping in and out of view underneath his shirt, and then when they'd driven away I told her I was kind of tired too and asked if she could take me home. In the car I asked her if she knew where Ethan lived and she kind of looked at me funny but said, "Out in the country I think, by that place that sells pumpkins."
"I was just curious," I said, which is always a lie, no one is ever curious for no reason. Even scientists are trying to answer a hypothesis when they do experiments. I wanted to know where he lived because it made him more real. Like someone who has a house and parents and pajamas couldn't be just a figment of my overactive imagination. And I guess knowing where he lived meant I could think about what he was doing there, which I knew I would be doing since I was already admitting to myself that this beautiful boy was conquering the better part of my thoughts.
Trysta must have known that too because when I got out of the car at my house she leaned over and said, "I think Ethan's band is playing in Edgebrook this Saturday."
"Oh, do you want to go?" I asked like I didn't know what she was talking about.
"Yeah, let's," she said. Sometimes I think Trysta understood me a lot better than I give her credit for. And I sometimes miss her now, though not all that much. She went away to college last year, and I didn't really mind. I guess it made me realize how little our friendship really meant, and it probably should have taught me a lesson about me and Ethan, but I wasn't ready to question that yet. And besides, by the time I figured out about Trysta I was pretty involved in this whole fan club thing. You can't just stop, I thought then, but now I'm not so sure. Last year my grandma stopped smoking, and she'd been doing that for almost fifty years. She just stopped. I admire that.
I tell Dixie that I'll pick up the tee-shirts after I get off work and maybe I sigh a little too loud.
"Genna, honey, is something wrong?" Dixie asks.
"No, why?"
"You just sounded sad," she says.
"I'm fine. Maybe a little tired. Up late last night, that's all," I lie. I went to bed at ten.
"Out enjoying the night life, no doubt," the old woman chuckles.
"You know it."
"See you later then, sweetie," she says.

my ears had been so full of his copper voice...

"Bye, Dixie." I hang up the phone. I haven't had a night life for so long. Not that I was ever all that wild, but I had friends and we had fun. Now it seems like all I have is work and phone calls to people I barely know and printing tee-shirts and answering fan mail and even talking to Ethan isn't so exciting anymore because it's going nowhere. About once a week I call him, he hardly ever calls me, and I ask him how it's going and has he written any new songs and could he give me fifteen autographs please. I used to go to almost all of his concerts but now I only go about once a month, just to hear the new songs and kind of to secretly hope he'll dedicate a song to me, which he's never done. Not once. And it's not like he even has another girlfriend. As far as I know, his love life has been as empty as mine for the past two years.

: : : : : : : : : :

So I went to that concert in Edgebrook with Trysta. It was the first time I saw Ethan after the Pringles night, which is what I call it now. I was really excited to see him, to talk to him again. For the past three days all that had filled my mind, my eyes, had been his shoulder blades, his dimple, his incredible eyes. And I hadn't heard people speaking to me sometimes, my ears had been so full of his copper voice.

After the show, when he was picking up his guitar and stuff, I went up to him. "Hi," I said, my hands twisting in my pockets.
He turned around. "Oh, hi."
"You sounded really good," I said. I should have said something more, I should have told him about my visions of copper rooftops or how when he sings it makes me want to sing too, but instead I just said he was good. That word means nothing.
He knew that good meant nothing and so he said "Thankyou," and that didn't really mean much either. Any other two people could have had that exact same conversation, that's what makes me so mad at myself. He still doesn't know me.
And so, trying to make the conversation ours, just for us, I said, "So, the fan club's going well."
"Is it? But I still can't see the shirts, right?"
"No, I'm sorry, it was a tragedy, but they all burned," I said. It was so easy to talk to him about this, so hard to tell him anything real.
"They burned? How did they burn?"
"I don't know. Your fans were crushed. It was an act of spontaneous combustion, I guess," I told him.
"I have fans?" He was smiling, his dimple was showing, and I wanted to tell him that, but instead I just lied some more.
"Oh, you have tons. The mailing list is huge, you should see it."
He folded his guitar case shut and picked it up. "Are you ready to go?"
"Go where?"
"We're gonna go get something to eat. Do you wanna come?"
"Sure," I said, meaning I'd go anywhere with you, Ethan, I love you.
But maybe he didn't catch that part because we just went to Denny's. He ordered french toast because they serve breakfast 24 hours, and I had a chocolate shake. The rest of the band was there and I met them, Michael, Paulie, and Ben, but even now, after hours of waiting with them for it to be their turn on stage, or hanging out with them after concerts, or sitting around during practice, I still just call them the band. I can't help it. Ethan's the only one who counts for me.

"Sure," I said, meaning I'd go anywhere with you, Ethan, I love you.

But maybe he didn't catch that part because we just went to Denny's.

I was sitting next to Trysta and across from Ethan, and it was really nice of her to come and I told her I owed her a favor because she had no interest in going to Denny's with the band, she had a boyfriend and better things to do. That night was when it happened, and I still don't know quite how, it's still kind of a blur, but somehow I decided that I really should start a fan club in real life.
It all started when I told Ethan, "You know this whole fan club thing is a joke." I don't know why I even said it. Obviously he knew. Maybe I was just sick of the lying.
And he said, "Well, yeah, but it's kind of fun to pretend."
And he sounded so sincere and almost wistful and his eyes got so round and glossy that I began to think that maybe he needed a fan club, maybe everyone does, and why shouldn't he have one? I thought I wouldn't mind having a fan club, but I wasn't being realistic then, I realize that now. Because while there may be nothing wrong with being in a fan club or even with having one, I think there is definitely something bad about being the president.
But that night I was across the table from a fragile looking boy with gleaming hazel eyes and a dimple that I really wanted to see again, and he was staring into his french toast and his eyelashes were fluttering and he hadn't taken a bite since I'd brought up the subject of fan clubs and so I said, "How would you feel about not having to pretend? About having a fan club in real life?" And we both knew that it wasn't a hypothetical question and his eyes and the dimple that couldn't stop itself from coming out of hiding gave me my answer and that's when I became Genevieve Mills, President of the Ethan Ross Official Fan Club.

: : : : : : : : : :

The little bell on the door rings and so I stop weighing bags of peppermint drops and go out to the counter. "Hello, how may I help you?" I ask in my cheerful store voice, and then I look up. It's Ethan. "Oh, hi. What are you doing here?"

"I needed some candy."
Great. Why do I even ask? Of course he's not here to see me. "Craving?"
"No," he pauses, looking at the candy, at the counter, at the floor, everywhere but me, "it's not for me, it's for, you know, a gift."
Oh. "And you just had to come here?"
"Well, you sell the best candy." And he's nervously stroking the back of his head, and he stops, meets my eyes. It's been a long time since he did that. "I mean, I could have just gotten her some box of Russel Stover but yours is so much... better."
I pull myself out of the hazel sea of his eyes at that word. Her. I can't help it, I have to say, "So who's the lucky girl?"
"My mother. It's her birthday."
"That's nice." He goes over to the chocolate counter and looks around, and I watch him. It caught me off guard to see him like this, when I wasn't expecting to. He's wearing really faded jeans and a blue tee-shirt that has a few tiny holes in it, and his skin looks so pale through the holes. I think I forget sometimes that he has a mother, and old tee-shirts, and all the same things I have.
"I think I'm going to get her these," he says, pointing to the almond chocolate puffs. "She loves almonds."
So I take some out and put them in a box and weigh them and put a little red ribbon around the box, all without looking at him and then I look up to say "That's gonna be $6.78 with the tax," and he's staring into my eyes and smiling a little.
And he doesn't look away for a long time, he just stands there, his fingertips on the counter, and looks at me. "This is so weird," he says finally, and looks down to count out a five, two ones, and three pennies.
I always do that too, I hate pennies, and it seems strange that with all I think I know about Ethan I expected him to pay $7.00 even. So I give him his quarter and as our fingertips touch I say, "What's so weird?"
He puts the quarter into his right hand pocket, just like I always do, and sighs. "Just that I'm buying candy from you, and that we're talking like we don't even know each other."
"We don't," I blurt out.
"What do you mean?" His eyes fly to mine.
"I mean, you gave me pennies and I didn't know you'd do that, I thought you probably wouldn't take the time to or something, and" I stop. "Nevermind."
"No, really," he says, touching my hand lightly, "what did you mean when you said we don't know each other?"
"I don't know." I can't think of anything but his fingertips, warm against the back of my hand.
"Oh." He looks at his shoes and picks up the box of candy. "Well, I'll talk to you later, Genna."
"Yeah, I'll call you," I say, and the bell rings on the door again and he is gone.
I go back to bagging the peppermint drops and wonder what just happened, but that's too hard, and so instead I try to remember the first day of being fan club president.
I woke up that morning after I'd made my fateful promise to Ethan at Denny's, and almost let myself wonder if it had been a dream but I knew it hadn't. Even now I sometimes catch myself waking up in the morning from some nice dream about being at college or even back in high school, and wishing for a second that real life is a dream and the dream is real life. But I'm not good at lying, even to myself, and so when that happens I just glance around my bedroom at the boxes of tee-shirts and the autographed posters and the tray of newsletters waiting to be bulk mailed, and then I go brush my teeth. But anyway I woke up that morning and just wondered, how do you start a fan club anyway? Especially a fan club for someone who, judging from the two concerts I'd been to, had a very small but loyal group of fans, i.e. his friends and no one else.
But a promise is a promise so I brushed my teeth and got dressed and thought about it. I'd never been in a fan club, so I didn't even know what kind of stuff they sent out. I wondered if any of my old junior high magazines had advice on how to start one, so I was looking through them and in the back I kept running across ads for like R.E.M. fan club and an address or Madonna fan club and an address, but I decided that wasn't going to work for me since no one would write in to the Ethan Ross fan club, my address. No one had heard of Ethan Ross. I guessed I would have to recruit fans.
To recruit fans I would need to send tapes to people, so I had to call Ethan. I looked up his phone number in the book, and there were three Rosses but only one on his road, and so I called. It seems almost funny, now, thinking of looking up his phone number. Now I can't pick up a phone without my fingers wanting to dial it, I've called him so much.
I thought it was him but the copper got kind of distorted by the phone lines and so, just to be sure, I said, "Hi, is Ethan there?"
"Yeah, this is."
"Hi, this is Genna."
"Oh, hi." He sounded kind of happy to hear from me.
I didn't know what to say. "I was just calling about the fan club," I said.
"Oh," he said like he was disappointed or something. Maybe it was the wrong thing to say, maybe he didn't really want one after all I thought. "What about it?" he asked.
"Well, if you still want me to do it, I was just thinking of sending out some demo tapes to people I know. Stuff like that."
After a few seconds he said,"Sure."
That little word was all it took. It's not like he even said it all that enthusiastically, but then again he sounded kind of like he'd just woken up, which made me think about him in bed, and so I said, "Well, I don't have any demo tapes to send. So do you have any you could give me?"
"Yeah, I have a few."
So that's how it all started, and I can't believe it was more than two years ago. Some days it feels like I just began, some days it seems like I've been a fan club president all my life. But two years, that's not the right number. Anyway what I've been thinking lately is no matter how long it goes on it will already have been too long. I'm thinking this again as I drive over to Whitman's Sports Shop after work to pick up the tee-shirts.

: : : : :

I think I disappoint Ethan. Disappoint is the only word I can put to it, but it's not quite right. It's just that everytime I talk to him I get the feeling that there's a right answer, like I'm that close to the Daily Double and I miss it everytime. Oh, I don't know what I'm saying. This damn box of tee-shirts is so heavy. I never realized how many fans he has. It all seems like some big balloon that got stuck on the helium nozzle and now it's just so big it feels like it's gonna pop. How did it get so big?
I remember the first letters I got, from the old pen-pals I'd sent the demo tapes to. And most of them thought the band was great, because they really are, and most of them said sure I'll join a fan club, why not. So I wrote the first newsletter and I got Ethan to give me a little interview for it, but he did it so reluctantly, in fact, it seems now, he's reluctant about everything having to do with this fan club. Maybe he knew something I didn't. But, you know, it gave me an excuse to talk to him and to stare into his gorgeous eyes and hear his gorgeous voice, and so I typed it up and xeroxed it and took it down to the post office. And for all the stories about how rude postal workers are, the man I talked to was pretty nice to me, except he had this habit of looking at the wall just behind you when he talked, which can be annoying, but that wasn't his fault, and so I learned the ins and outs of bulk mailing. There's more to it than you might think.
There's the orange "D" stickers for if you have more than ten going to the same five digit zip code, and the green "3" stickers if the first three digits of the zip codes are the same, and the pinkish "MS" sticker for the leftovers, and you bundle them all with fat rubber bands and put them in a special tray which is really a cardboard box, but anyway, and then you add up the prices and everything. Ethan, of course, knows nothing about this. He's never been involved in the fan club, which I guess is good, like I told him on that first night, "Don't you think it would be conceited of you to wear a tee-shirt with your own face on it?"
I finally get the box of shirts into the backseat of my car and drive home. My apartment is pretty small but it's right by a big park which I like to pretend sometimes is my backyard, and so I like it okay. It's the downstairs of an old house, I used to have the upstairs apartment but when Mr. Miller went to the nursing home I moved downstairs for exactly this reason, that it's a lot easier to carry big boxes of newsletters and tee-shirts in from the car when you don't have to go up a narrow little staircase, too. Sometimes I miss the upstairs, though, it has a nicer view and my cat Oliver liked to sit in this one window and watch birds.

...in fact, it seems now, he's reluctant about everything having to do with this fan club. Maybe he knew something I didn't...

: : : : :

There was this one time when me and Ethan almost kissed. I was riding with the band on the way to a concert about three hours away, and we had stopped at this rest stop along the highway to get something to drink and relax for a while. It was last fall, about this time, early enough to still be kind of warm out, but starting to smell crispy and just a few leaves turning beautiful fiery colors. Ethan was in a really good mood, he didn't seem disappointed in me at all that day. And we had both decided to get sundaes at the TCBY that was attached and he got vanilla yogurt with hot fudge and Butterfinger bits, and I got white chocolate yogurt with strawberry sauce and chocolate sprinkles, and the rest of the guys wanted to stay inside but I said, "It's so nice out, let's go sit in the swings," and he agreed.

There was this one time when me and Ethan almost kissed.

So we walked outside together with our long plastic spoons and our clear cups and I just smiled down at our feet which were in sync like always, as we crunched the scattered red and yellow leaves on the sidewalk. And we sat down in the swings and we ate our sundaes and he even said, "Are those real strawberries?"
"Yeah, I think so. I mean, yes, but they were frozen I think. They're good though."
"Do you think I could try a bite?"
And so I took my long plastic spoon and made the most beautiful bite, with ice cream and a whole strawberry, and some sprinkles, and he looked into my eyes and I can't believe I didn't get strawberry all over his face, my hand was shaking so much. And then he gave me a bite of his and we didn't say a word, we just stared at each other, and when we finished we started swinging. You forget sometimes how much fun it is to swing really high, and we were both swinging so hard I was kind of worried the whole swingset might break, because it wasn't really built for people our age, but I didn't care. I would have been smiling when the chains broke, as I flew off into the autumn sky, if Ethan was flying there with me. My favorite part of swinging has always been that split second, just at the top, when your weight's going faster than you are and for a second you're floating, free of everything. But then you always come down.
The band came out of the building and we stopped pumping, but the momentum or whatever kept us going for a while longer, while they went to the van and got in. Then when we both had stopped Ethan said, "Do you wanna race over to the van?"
And I said, "Sure, but you'll win, I'm not very fast."
"You never know," he had smiled. "Get ready, get set, go!"
And we were running and we were in sync again even though he might not have been going as fast as he could have, after all his legs are longer than mine, but the wind was whipping at my face as I sprinted through the parking lot, and it was making me smile wide. I looked over and Ethan was looking at me and he was smiling too and then all of a sudden I was slamming down on the pavement, hard, and I must have tripped on something when I was looking at him, and my hands and my knees were skidding across the pavement and I remembered what it's like to be a little kid and skin your knees and I looked down and my palms were bleeding and they stung and I looked up and Ethan had stopped and was standing over me and I felt like such an idiot that I started crying. It happened before I knew what to do, and then Ethan was helping me up and hugging me. He smelled so wonderful, and his arms were so tight around my waist and I forgot for a second that he was Ethan and for a second he was just someone hugging me when I was crying and then I remembered, and so I sniffed away the tears and hugged him back, and then we pulled apart a little and our eyes met and our faces were so close, and I was looking at his lips and he was looking at my eyes and he put a finger up to wipe away my tears and asked if I was okay. I nodded. If I had just moved my face toward his then and closed my eyes I'm sure he would have kissed me. I could feel it.
I washed my hands before we left, but I didn't even think to look at my knees until the next day, and they took a while to heal, and on my left knee there's still a little bit of a scar from that day. It still hurts to touch it, but in a different way. Now it hurts when I think about almost kissing Ethan, and when I wonder if that was the only chance I'll ever get.
When I should have closed my eyes and moved my lips toward his, instead I put my head back by his shoulder and said, "I don't think I'll write this part of today in the newsletter."
His arms loosened then and he said, "Maybe you oughta go wash your hands before we go."
We never talked about that day again, even though I know he knew what almost happened just as much as I did. We never mentioned it.
Oliver comes over and nuzzles me. He's a smart cat, and always knows when I'm sad and need some of his cat breath keeping me company. He bumps his forehead against my elbow until I pet him, but it doesn't change anything. Because he's sitting on top of this huge box of tee-shirts which I have to start mailing. And it must be full right up to the top because it's not caving in even a little, and he's a big cat. Overweight. He's on a low-maintenance diet and everything but what he really needs is exercise. He needs to get out more. I guess we're a lot alike in that sense.
There's nowhere for me to go, though. I mean, there are places, but nowhere for a person to go alone. And what I really don't have is someone to be with. At least when Trysta was here I didn't have to sit alone when I went out for dinner or something. I wish more places delivered. So, you know, I take a book and a pad of paper and try to look like I don't care that I'm alone. It's not even that I care so much what people think of me, it's that by pretending, I sometimes convince myself. The whole time though, I'm watching people, wishing someone I knew would come in or someone I don't know would come over and sit with me anyway. It seems like I don't know how to meet people anymore. The phone rings. It's some girl's voice, and I can tell she's calling about the fan club before she says anything.
"Yes, the new tee-shirts are in," I mutter. "Yes, that's fifteen dollars plus $2.95 shipping and handling." She orders one and I write down her address.
"Hey, do you actually know Ethan?" she asks me.
And I put down the pen and just sit there. I start to feel like such a hypocrite because I don't really know him, all I know is facts about him and his music and his beautiful face but I don't know the little stuff, like whether or not he takes cream in his coffee or the big stuff, like what he thinks about religion or politics or what his parents are like and until today I didn't know that he pays with pennies. And that's the important stuff. The stupid interviews he's given me for the newsletter, all they've been about is his music or something. Not little inconsequential things that when they add up mean you really know someone, and not even opinions which should let you know if you even want to get to know someone.
"Did you hear me? Have you like met him and stuff?"
"Oh, yeah," I say. "I've met him."
"Like how many times?" she asks excitedly.
"I've known him for two years, I guess," I say. "But it doesn't really matter when"
She interrupts, "That's so cool. So when will I get it?"
"Get what?"
"The tee-shirt."
"Soon." And I gently hang up the phone. I'm putting away her address in my fan club drawer when a little piece of paper flutters out. It's a flyer for one of the band's concerts that I got a while ago. They were playing in the next town. I wonder why I didn't go, and I'm looking more closely at the writing, wondering if Ethan designed it, and now I know why I didn't go. It's tonight. In twenty minutes.
And before I know it I'm in the car, driving. It's dark, and the back road I'm on is quietly humming because the radio's not on to drown it out. I hate the radio. I sometimes wish my car's tape player worked, except then probably all I'd listen to would be Ethan's band, and I guess I need one place where he's not. Even though I guess his little ghost haunts my car as much as any other place, since he's been in it. Not for a while though. It always made me so nervous when he was riding with me. That was back when the tape player worked and I never felt like the music I was playing was good enough. He never said anything to make me think that, but I just thought, you know, he's a musician and all, he probably has way more sophisticated taste in music than me. But he hated to listen to himself, so we couldn't play those tapes. That was the only time when I liked the radio. Because then if a stupid song came on, it wasn't my fault.

: : : : : : : : : :

I'm in my car. In the parking lot. And all of a sudden it's like I can't remember what to do at a concert, and I can't remember why I came. Usually Ethan knows I'm gonna be here or I go with the band. For some reason, I feel like an intruder tonight. My heart's beating all fast and my stomach is beginning to hurt, but I would feel really stupid if I just drove home. So I get out of the car and walk to the door. Paulie is taking the money. "Oh, hey, Genna. We're the last band on tonight. And you know what they say about saving the best for last. Pretty cool, huh?"
"That's great. Do you want me to pay?" I say, feeling around in my pocket for a five I know was in there.
"Are you kidding?" He laughs. "No. Fan club presidents never pay."
I find the five. "I will tonight." Something in the way he said that last sentence makes me want to.
"Seriously, you don't have to."
"I want to pay, Paulie," I say firmly.
"Okay. It's your money."
"Now it's yours."
"Cool. Hey, are you coming out with us after?" He puts the five into his box, hands me two crumpled dollars.
"I don't know. Maybe." I go inside and find a seat at one of the back tables. I don't see Ethan anywhere, so I'm alone, and so I have to take out my little pad of paper and doodle a little to make it look like I'm happy to be. For some reason, sitting back here in a dark corner, I feel like a spy or something. I feel almost guilty, the way I used to when I listened to my parents fighting long after they thought I was asleep. It was always money, and who was spending too much on what or who was being such a goddamn miser all the time and why couldn't we just buy a new sofa and eat generic brand cereal for a while. Maybe that's when all my lying started. My made up stories.
I couldn't fall asleep at night without telling myself a story. They were usually really corny ones about some poor peasant girl with a good heart and some evil princess and good prince charming who of course saw through the phony princess and married the peasant girl. I had imaginary friends, too. I didn't talk to my parents about them like the cute little kids on sit-coms do, because my parents wouldn't have played along, like, "Oh, of course Gus can have some cereal too, honey." They had more important things to do and there was no "Aaawww, hoooooww cuuuute," soundtrack playing in the back of my childhood. Not at all. I wasn't a very cute little kid, I don't think. Probably because my mom went to work first and so my dad had to do my hair, and everybody knows dads cannot do hair.
The first band is done now and the second one is setting up. And Ethan's up there helping them. The lights shining on the little stage are reflecting in his hair, and he's wearing the same jeans from this morning at the candy store but he changed his shirt. I kind of smile thinking that no one here but me knows that this morning his hair wasn't shiny and he was wearing an old holey tee-shirt instead of this striped sweater. He sets an amp down and looks out into the audience, towards me. I wave at him but he doesn't wave back. He keeps staring for a minute and then looks down at the floor. Like he didn't even see me. And I'm thinking that Ethan can be a real jerk. I hate his striped sweater. Who's he trying to fool? He's just like the rest of us. He thinks he's so special.

Maybe that's when all my lying started. My made up stories.

Or maybe that's just me, I'm thinking once I've locked myself in the corner stall of the women's bathroom, maybe I'm the one who's got a problem. He could have at least waved, though. Oh no, I don't want to start crying. I can't let myself start because then it'll just go on and on. When I broke my little finger on the school trip, and it hurt so bad, I didn't cry for almost an hour. And then once it was splinted I went in the bus, and no one else was there, and I thought I would just let myself cry for a minute or two. But I couldn't stop. My whole body started shaking, and my teacher came and found me and I still couldn't stop for another few minutes. So I don't cry now. I go out and splash a little water on my eyes, which are pretty red, but it's dark out there so no one will notice. I go upstairs and I hear before I see that Ethan's singing now. I sit down again.
I'm thinking I can't believe I missed the whole second band, not that I care, but I can't believe I was in the bathroom that long, when Ethan stops singing. He clears his throat and looks up for a second, then he looks down at his feet and says, "I'd like to dedicate this next one to an amazing person, even though she isn't here tonight to hear it, she's the inspiration for this song. It's a new one, and it's called Unspoken..." And I don't hear the rest because I'm pushing open the door and running through the parking lot. I don't care if it's a new song.

...I need to destroy something of him, he just destroyed me in there...

I'm driving way too fast and he is such a jerk, dedicating some song to some girl who's not even there, which is probably why he pretended not to see me, because he just doesn't have time anymore now that whoever she is has come into his ugly striped sweater wearing life and she's probably beautiful and tall and that's what he was going to talk about next probably, which is why I'm glad I got out of there and maybe he's not such a good singer after all, his voice wasn't sounding anything like copper tonight and the trees are flashing by and I'm glad there are no other cars I need to be alone now, I flash on my brights and accelerate even more.
And the first thing I see when I walk in my door is that enormous box of tee-shirts, all with his jerk face on them, and I kick it really hard as I walk by and then I kick it again. All my kicking is barely denting it and I need to destroy something of him, he just destroyed me in there and I wonder if he even knew what he was doing. I know what I'm doing now. It's a crazy thing to do but I'm not crazy. When my grandma quit smoking, she threw away all of her lighters. Now I just need to find one. No, if I was crazy, would I be out here building a circle of rocks? I may feel like destroying something but not a whole park. And the box is lighter than it was this afternoon, it's lighter, and I found one and it's in my pocket, and I take out one tee-shirt. I might want it later. And I drop the box in the circle and maybe I should like put something on it, so I run back inside and I'm looking around in the medecine cabinet. Does hydrogen peroxide burn? Why didn't I pay more attention in chemistry? Oh, oh, leftover from the eighties, way back in the back, I can't believe I still have it.

I don't know what I was thinking...

Salon Selectives hairspray was everybody's favorite back in junior high because it smells like apples and other good stuff, and I wonder what it'll smell like when it burns. I spray the whole box, like it's some lady who wants helmet hair, and then I take the lighter out, and for a couple more seconds I'm calculating the cost of tee-shirts subtracted from how much I make an hour but you know, I'm in no mood to care. So I light it. I light the bottom edges, and the top corners, and I stand back. It doesn't smell all that bad, and the wind's blowing gently away from me, so I sit down and just watch. The flames are beautiful, sliding like a thin scarf over the box which is turning black and I pick up the one tee-shirt I'd saved. It wasn't a really good design. I don't know what I was thinking. God. I don't know what I've been thinking for the whole last two years. And then the tears start to come out, and they crawl down my hot cheeks, and the wind shifts and it's cold in the places where my face is wet and the thickening smoke is in my eyes and it's burning and I'm standing up and the tears are just squeezing out of my tight-closed eyes and I'm making little noises but no one's around to hear and then all of a sudden I hear him.
I whirl around and open my eyes and the tears backwash in and sting and I wipe my eyes and it's Ethan, running across the field, and all of a sudden his arms are around me and it just makes me cry harder, but somehow my arms are around him anyway, and I didn't mean to put them there and I'm squeezing him tight.
"Ow, too tight," he says, and then he lets go of me and he's brushing the hair away from my face and I'm wiping my eyes but no matter what I can't stop crying so instead I just wipe my nose and pull away from him.
"I hate you," I mumble, in this wailing crying voice and his hands leave my hair.
"Why do you hate me?"
"Because you're... Nevermind. I just do."
"Genna, what's burning?"
"A big box of tee-shirts with your face on them," and all of a sudden I'm not crying anymore, just shaking, but the tears have stopped.
"Oh." He takes a step backwards, and looks a little confused, and then he falls down on the ground and starts laughing.
"It's not funny," I stammer, and collapse onto my hands and knees next to him and start slapping his arms. "It's not funny."
"I know," he says, and his face is completely serious. He grabs my elbows and says, "I'm just really happy."
"Why?" I ask, shaking off his grip.
"Because. I hate the stupid fan club."
"I do too." And I'm staring into his eyes, which are reflecting the shrinking flames. And then I remember why I was burning the box, and it wasn't because I hate the fan club, "But I hate you too right now," I say.
"Why? You didn't answer me before."
"Because I've known you, well, sort of known you for two years, and you never dedicated a song to me, and"
"Tonight you dedicate some song to some girl who you've probably known for like a week!"
"Genna," he takes my hands again and holds on tight this time, but I'm not really trying to get free because of the way he's looking at me. "Tonight was a mistake. I didn't know you were there."
"Oh, and whenever I'm not there you dedicate songs to girls, but you're nice enough not to do it when I'm around. How sweet." I shove my hands in my pockets.
"No." He looks at the ground. "Whenever you're not there I dedicate songs to you. Because when you're there I always get too shy."
"So tonight..." I look over at the pile of ashes within the circle.
"That was you."
And I'm in his arms and his neck is warm and smells like cinnammon and I'm holding him so tight, I'm holding Ethan, and his arms loosen and our faces are so close I can feel his breath and he puts a hand up to smooth my hair and I remember everything and so I'm closing my eyes and moving my face closer and then they snap open. I remember everything. "So, Ethan," I say, "What are your feelings on communism?"
He smiles and I can feel my mouth stretching wide, and he kisses me with his eyes open which I know since mine are too, and then he says, "Let's go inside, because I've been wanting to talk to you about that, and eastern religion, and this problem I've been having and... a lot of other things."
"What problem?" My hand is clasping his so tight, two years of empty hands, and now ours fit, fingers intertwine like ivy vines.
"Actually," he says, opening my door for me, "I think it's not as bad as it used to be." I open the door to my apartment. "Hey," he says, "Didn't you used to live upstairs?"
"Yeah, I did. I'm going to move back up there."
"It's what I wanted all along."
"Then why did you move?"
"I don't know. I guess I was confused."
"I was too. That was the problem I was talking about. I don't know how to say what I mean."
"What do you mean?"
"I want to know you, Genna. I just didn't know how to even begin."
I look out the window, at the night park. In the pale light from a streetlight I can almost see a circle of stones. Drawing back, I see my own eyes reflected in the glass. And then I look at Ethan. I don't know where to start either for a while, so we just sit on my floor, watching each other. Then I tell him everything. "I was the president of a fan club," I begin, "but I'm not anymore."

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© sarah kowalski
updated october 5, 1999