Ethan’s Tesla turned into the Forsythe Summit parking lot, and Stacy breathed a sigh of relief as the Camry zoomed past without even slowing down. I am getting paranoid, she thought.
“How big is this forest?” Ethan asked as they climbed out of the car.
Stacy looked it up. “Fifty or so square miles.”
“How do we find this intelligent zombie colony?”
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just sniff them out?” Stacy grimaced, glaring at Blas still sitting in his car seat, glowering back at her. “As it stands, they’re gonna have to find us.”
Ethan nodded, apparently unperturbed at Stacy’s suggestion that they make themselves zombie bait. Stacy shook her head at him. “I said we’re going to wander around in the woods until they attack us, then we’ll take pictures of them.”
Ethan smiled, “are you trying to scare me?”
“Just trying to see how stupid you really are.”
Ethan shrugged. “So what’s your real plan?”
Stacy couldn’t keep herself from giggling. She punched Ethan in the chest. “God, you are annoying. All right, hotshot. I brought a wildlife camera. One of those ones that just stand outside and take videos of everything that moves. I was going to put it up where they set the trap for me the first time. Then we’ll come back in a week and go through the footage.”
Ethan pat her on the shoulder. “Now that is a good plan. Assuming they’re not smart enough to just take it for themselves.”
Stacy shrugged. “That’s a risk I don’t mind taking.”
Stacy and Ethan left to go up the mountain, not even bothering trying to force Blas out of the car. Princess alone would be plenty of backup in the unlikely event that they got attacked setting up a camera just barely off the trail.
Unbeknownst to either of them, the Camry had turned back around and driven by again three times while they talked. As they began the climb, it drove to the far side of the lot and up onto the curb. It navigated itself behind a tree. Julia stepped out with Jack and they admired her handiwork. Julia was beginning to get bored with Japanese, she realized, and she spoke to Jack in plain English. “Pretty good job, huh?”
“Wow, no!” Said Jack.
Julia pouted. “Try to be supportive, will you? I mean no one will notice my car here in the woods.”
“Oh, no!” Jack agreed.
Julia smiled, “Thank you.”
“Ethan,” Stacy asked as they climbed the switchback, “it seems like you’re not afraid of anything. Why is that?”
Ethan thought for a long time. “I wouldn’t say nothing scares me, I just – let’s say I have a different perspective now.”
“Now as opposed to when?”
“Since I changed my perspective,” Ethan grinned.
“When was that?”
“About the time I started looking at the world in a different way.”
“Why did you do that?”
“Because the way I was looking at the world could no longer be the same.”
“In what way?”
“Don’t you just love it up here? I climbed a mountain once and ended up in the middle of a rainstorm. Not underneath a rainstorm, but in the middle of the cloud itself. You couldn’t see farther than a few arm-spans in front of you, and it looked like nothing existed outside of that little patch of rock.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“I’m not.” Ethan stepped a little closer to Stacy as the path narrowed. He put his arm around her shoulder. She didn’t need help to not fall off the edge, but she didn’t mind.
“You’d better not be.”
“The rain from the cloud drenched me. It was cold up there, too. But rivulets formed on the rocks, joining into one tiny river cutting through the green moss. The trees swayed in the wind, but up there they grow no taller than my shoulder. Everything was so small, so perfect, that I forgot about the cold and the discomfort. I was a giant, clomping through a misty enchanted field. I half-expected a dwarf unicorn to clop in and start to drink from the stream while a rainbow erupted from just beyond the cloud wall.”
“What does this have to do with your new perspective?” Stacy asked as Princess padded off ahead of them.
Ethan took Stacy by the shoulders and turned her towards the edge. “What do you see?”
Stacy resisted the urge to lean into him. She had a job to do, and he still hadn’t really answered her question. “Everything is small.”
“It all seems so insignificant, doesn’t it? People just go about their days, eating, working, watching TV, getting old.”
Ethan’s voice was smooth and rich like hot chocolate. It made her feel light inside, like she could float off the ground and catch the right wind to fly over those little houses and cars.
“I realized that I didn’t want to be like them, Stace. You’re not like them. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I want to follow your passion wherever it leads you.”
She didn’t even care that he called her “Stace” again. In that moment he could call her “George” if he wanted to. Blas was back in the car, Princess had wandered ahead, and the two of them were more alone than they had ever been in their lives.
Somehow she hadn’t noticed it happen, but Ethan had his arms wrapped around her now, and his voice was a warm whisper that tickled her ear. “Where is your passion leading you now?”
Stacy turned and looked at Ethan’s face. The smile on his lips betrayed the tiniest cracks in his confidence. That’s right, you don’t know if this is going to work. I’m the hardest girl in school. Ethan’s stupid comment over sushi came back to her and paradoxically played in his favor as her pride and affection swelled in tandem. Stacy felt gorgeous. She had slain this mysterious, handsome man without even trying.
His dark brown eyes bespoke an ineffable wisdom well beyond the years of an ordinary high school playboy. What are you hiding, Ethan Stowe? Stacy thought, but it wasn’t suspicion. It was the feeling that one gets when reading the first chapter of a tantalizing novel.
Stacy bit her own lip and looked back down at Ethan’s. She placed her bulky wildlife camera on the ground, lifted her hands to his face and pulled him towards her. She just had to know what was going to happen next.
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