Zoë read the note on the kitchen table, and she showed it to Genevieve. They had arrived back at the house in time for lunch and found it empty. They had planned to go swimming with Hope, but the note showed that there was no point in going upstairs to see if she was still sleeping.

Dear Everybody, it read, Hope and I have gone to talk. This conversation has been a long time in coming, so I hope you’ll understand if it takes awhile. Be back as soon as I can.

It was unsigned, but of course they knew who it was from. Genevieve kept staring at it, for something about the hastily scrawled note bothered her. She just couldn’t put her finger on it. She folded the small piece of paper up and put it in the pocket of her shorts, and then promptly forgot about it. For a while.

Perhaps if she’d remembered sooner, it would have made a difference.

The others came back in time for dinner, but Ethan and Hope were no-shows. They all stayed up late, and still no sign. Genevieve stayed up past the others and finally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion on the couch in the living room near the front door at four in the morning, but no one came in while she waited. There was no word at breakfast the next morning, either.

“I am officially worried.” Genevieve said. “How long could it take, anyway?”

“Those two?” Alex laughed. “They could talk for a year without stopping, if they wanted to. I’d imagine that they have a lot to say to each other. I remember what Ethan went through the year Hope graduated. He told me about his crush on her, and, after their friendship ended, he and I talked about how much that hurt him.”

Genevieve looked at Alexander in surprise. She’d had no idea that her brother had confided to him the thoughts that she’d believed he had only shared with her.

“I’m not surprised, though he and I never talked about it.” Neal said. “I could see the way he acted around her that year. If they need to talk it out, well, it’s about time.”

“I’m still worried. Ethan’s been acting very strangely.” Genevieve interjected.

“Is that what’s been bothering you lately?” Neal said.

“Earth to Genevieve, Ethan’s always been strange.” Dan said, laughing. She glared at him, and he was stunned into silence.

“Easy, Eve.” Owen said. “Dan has a point. Ethan has his moods, we all know that. For years he was the Invisible Man, and in high school he made up for it by being involved in everything. Saying that he’s acting different is like saying the sky is blue or the grass is green.”

“But this is different!” Genevieve banged her fists on the kitchen table in exasperation. “He’s been more withdrawn than he has been in years, maybe since before high school, and that’s not good. He’s not himself, I tell you.”

“Actually, you’re wrong about that.” Dan said, flinching as if he expected another blast from her, but feeling the need to speak up. “Ethan acted a lot like this last year at our university. Evan and I were the only ones at the same school, and I’m sure he’ll back me up on this.”

“Dan’s right, Genevieve.” Evan concurred. “He was so quiet for the first two months of school, no one even knew who he was until November. Dan and I didn’t even know he went there with us until then, and we lived on his floor. He was brooding all year, but he wouldn’t say why. He refused to talk about it. It wasn’t until almost February that he really came out of his shell and started acting like he did in high school.”

“Yeah, it was great! We started going to the gym together, and he got in lots better shape under my expert tutelage.” Dan grinned, and flexed his big biceps for emphasis. “And Evan started teaching him to play guitar. Me and my friends took him clubbing and Evan took him to concerts… He really came to life in the last half of the school year.”

“You just never saw any of that because he was away. By that summer, when he came home, he was back to his old, cheery self.” Evan told her. “But for a while there, he was as withdrawn as he is now. It’s just a phase, like he always has. Give him time to figure it out, and he’ll be fine. He always is, and he always does it on his own. Maybe talking to Hope will help, but either way, it’s only a matter of time.”

Genevieve tried to find their words reassuring, but she still had a quiet, nagging doubt in the back of her mind. She vocalized her questions:

“Do you know why he acted that way? Did he ever tell you?” They shook their heads. “It’s so weird. When he went to Lake Huron in June he was really excited about school.”

“Lake Huron?” Evan asked.

“Sure, didn’t he talk about that? He was working for our uncle all summer, and never came home. He’d call or write, tell us he was fine, but we never saw him.” She said, surprised Evan and Dan hadn’t heard all about it already.

“He never told us anything.” Dan said. “Maybe that’s your answer, maybe something happened there that he didn’t want to talk about, and that made him withdraw. He dealt with it then, and he’ll deal with it now. It’s the way he is, so let it go.”

So she did. For a while.

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