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“Allison?” His voice was soft and serious, sounding warning bells in my mind.
“Mm-hmm?” I was afraid to look at him, afraid of the way he said my name, so I kept looking at the sky.
“I want to know why you never date,” he said.
I opened my mouth, but I couldn’t come up with an appropriate answer so I closed it.
“You could have anyone you wanted. Why is it you’re always alone?” I could feel his eyes on me as I stared into the star-studded night.
“Anyone I wanted? That’s a little excessive.”
“Come on, I’m being serious.”
I sighed, trying to think of the right response, one he would understand. “I guess I’m just always busy.”
He chuckled. “Everyone is busy. You have to give me a better reason than that.”
My mouth felt like cotton. Why did I have such a hard time forming coherent sentences when he was looking at me like that? I licked my lips and looked over at him. He stared directly into my eyes, the question still hanging between us.
“I want to take care of my mother. It’s all I want. So, I need to make that happen.” I curled my fingers into fists and pulled my shoulders back, looking back up at the stars. I’d had this conversation countless times with Nicole over the years.
“I know you do,” he said softly. I glanced back at him, surprised he wasn’t telling me that what I wanted was ridiculous. “But…who will take care of you?”
“I will take care of me.” I shook my head sadly. “My whole life everyone has had to take care of me. My grandparents, my aunt and uncle. They all sacrificed so much for me.”
“You act like it’s your fault, but it’s not.”
Now I was back in familiar territory. “My mother was normal before I was born, Ethan. When I came along she began her descent into schizophrenia. You don’t think that’s connected?”
He shifted in his seat. “I just know sometimes things happen, things that can’t be explained. But you still deserve to be happy.”
I glanced over at him before looking down at my hands. I uncurled my fingers. “I am happy. I’m enrolling in grad school, working and saving the money I make at the store. It’s what I want.”
“But what about friends? What about fun?”
“My idea of fun is just different from yours, I guess. I don’t need to be with a lot of people to be happy.” I hoped he would pick up the double entendre of my answer.
Ethan sighed and turned his body to face mine. He reached up and lightly traced a finger down my cheek. A shiver ran through my body. I turned my face away and focused my attention on finishing my ice cream. There were people everywhere. I didn’t want anything that happened between me and Ethan to be the subject of town gossip.
“Thanks for coming tonight,” Ethan said, unaffected. He reached down and picked up my left hand, interlacing his strong fingers with mine. “It seems like I’ve been trying to get you to go out with me forever.”
I stared down at our joined hands, too shocked to move. “Ethan, you’ve never had a lack of dates. I’d even say you’ve had more than your fair share.”
He ducked his head and laughed. “You think I’m a jerk, don’t you?”
I looked at him and smiled. “No. I don’t, actually. What you did today, for my grandparents… that was really great. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. It was no big deal.” He squeezed my hand and jumped down from the tailgate. “I’m going to take you home now, while you still think I’m so great.”