They were walking home from school, Ethan and Hope.  He was seven and she was eight and they were friends.  He was sad and she was trying to cheer him up.  He looked at her, gratitude in his light blue eyes, so light in colour that they were almost grey, and he smiled.

            “Hope, I know I’ve been acting strangely lately.  Promise me something?”  She had nodded, and he went on.  “Promise me that you’ll never give up on me?”

            “I promise, Ethan.”  She smiled back.  To an eight-year-old, it seemed like a simple thing to promise.  A vow that wouldn’t be hard to keep. 

            She never expected things to turn out the way they did in high school.  He’d been so erratic, so intense.  It had frightened her.  It was so unexpected, and uncharacteristic, like it wasn’t Ethan at all.  It wasn’t her fault that she’d run, or that she’d been too afraid to help him.  It wasn’t her fault!                    

            Why, then, did she keep dreaming of that promise?  And why did it feel like it was broken, as their friendship had lay broken at her feet the day she walked away from him?  Why did it still continue to haunt her so?

Hope wakened suddenly, as if from a bad dream.  She looked around at her strange surroundings, and then realized that she was in her guest room in Mr. Lamb’s house.  She pushed the satin sheets and headed for the bathroom that linked to Zoë’s room.  She showered and dressed, and then left the room to head downstairs.

            She found the kitchen empty, and then understood why.  It was ten o’clock in the morning.  She had slept in, probably because of jet lag, and the others had probably already started their days.  Hope remembered Jason telling her that an evangelical preacher who Lamb sponsored in the states was coming today to talk to them about the church, and Evan said they would be meeting him at his hotel in Vancouver.  They’d be gone for most of the day.

            On the refrigerator she found a note from Genevieve, saying that she and Zoë had gone for a walk on the mountain trail, but that they’d be back by lunch.  Apparently Zoë hadn’t been as affected by the plane ride, but then she had slept on the plane.  Hope had been far too worried to do that.

            “I guess I’m on my own.”  She said out loud.

            “Not quite.”  Came a voice from behind her, and she half jumped at the unexpected sound of it. 

            Hope turned, and saw him standing in the doorway of the kitchen, in shadow because the sun from the windows didn’t reach that far and she had yet to turn on any lights.  He was leaning casually against the wall, his hands in the pockets of his dark pants.            She stared at him, her heart pounding, too surprised to say anything.  He was an inch or two taller since the last time she’d seen him, and his hair was shorter.  He had shaved the beard grown on the mountain down to a goatee on his chin, and it made him look older and somewhat distinguished.  He seemed to be bigger, both in musculature, but, also, his very presence seemed larger.  She had known a frightened little boy, but this was a confident young man.

            “Surprised?”  He asked, grinning.  That grin seemed warm, filled with charm.  Not at all what Genevieve had said…

            “What?”  She said suddenly, realizing she hadn’t spoken for some moments.  “Oh, surprised, yes.  I didn’t hear you.”  She blushed and stuttered, realizing that she had been staring.

            “Must be the Navy Seal training.”  He said, still smiling.  It was an old joke he had used during high school.  He had always had this way of blending in, going unnoticed until he wanted to be noticed, and often snuck up on people.  She knew that it was a skill he developed in elementary school, trying to turn invisible to avoid the bullies, but that didn’t make it any less unnerving.  He had frightened her, despite the charm he was now exuding.

            “It’s good to see you, Hope.”  He said, stepping into the kitchen.

            “Is it?”  She said quietly.  “I mean, it’s good to see you too, Ethan.”

            Did she imagine it, or was there a flicker in his eyes when she said his name, one that made the smile seem a little less pleasant?  Was it just her, or had his grin suddenly become a grimace, just for a split second?  But no, he was smiling still, just as warmly as before…

            “I was surprised when they said you were coming.  I thought that you were angry with me.”  He said, a hurt look entering his eyes. 

            “Angry?  N-no, no.  Not angry.  I was frightened back then, because it was all so new and unexpected.  But now I understand.  I read your journals.”

            His smile flickered again, she thought, but perhaps that was just a trick of the light, as he had just stepped into the sunlight spilling from the windows.

            “Really?”  He asked, “What did you think?”

            “I don’t know.  I guess that I was relieved when I learned that you had come to terms with your crush on me, and outgrew it.  I thought that you might be angry with me, since I left.”

            “I could never be mad at you, Hope.”  He said, and she thought she saw that flicker again, that same break in his smile and charm.  It was barely perceptible, but it kept coming back.  It couldn’t just be her imagination…

            “I want us to talk.  We should go somewhere private.”  He was saying, pulling her away from her thoughts with his voice.

            “Maybe we could go out into the garden.”  She offered.  “Eve says that it’s beautiful.”

            “I was thinking we could go for a drive.”

            “Why?”  She asked.

            “It’s a surprise.  Please?”  He said, offering that same charming smile.  It disarmed her completely.  It said that things were fine.  Better than fine, actually, it said that he had found the confidence he had so sorely lacked three years before, it said that they were still friends, it said that Genevieve’s fears were unfounded…  So, despite Eve’s warnings, Hope acquiesced and left the house with him, in a car that Lamb had provided.

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