As he casually strolled towards the girls, Ethen cast a quick glance towards the table where he had left his belongings. He was pleased that no one had decided to take it and that he didn’t have to think of a new pick up line.
Ethen was just about to ask the girls if they wanted to share the table with him when the caramel blonde girl spoke.
“Hello Ethen. Long time no see! I’m surprised you recognised me!”
Taken aback, Ethen took a while to respond. “She does look familiar,” he thought. “Wait, isn’t she dad’s ex-stepdaughter? Yes, that’s right! No wonder she looked familiar at first. Gosh, what do I do now? This is going to be so awkward.”
Realising that he had been silent for slightly too long Ethen said slowly, “Yes, Larissa. Good to see you again,” the hesitation in his voice was obvious. He forced a smile and continued, “You’ve coloured your hair – looks nice. How’s Tommy doing?”
“Now if you only talked as fast as you walked!” said a squeaky voice to his left.
Ethen spun around only to see the same bespectacled girl who tried to get the table earlier.
“And if you intend to stand around here chatting all day you might as well free up the table. As it is we’re already under so much stress with these exams, we don’t need the extra pressure of finding a decent place to sit,” she went on.
“Oh give him a break Susie!” said the girl sitting on the floor next to Larissa.
Ethen kept quite, his eyes darting from one girl to the other. He was disappointed that his ‘chase’, as he called it, ended in such an unfortunate way. Now he was stuck with three girls, one too many he had bargained for.
As Larissa stood up and looked him in the eye Ethen felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand. His heart was pounding – will she reveal his secret to the world? And then a wave of memories hit Ethen out of the blue. He remembered the last time they were together. That was 7 years ago at what was then his father’s new townhouse.
Ethen was 18 and about to start university. Larissa was just 12 and yet to find out the dark side of her new stepfather. The two families had gathered together upon the request of the man in question. Albert, then 45 years old and recovering from his first mild heart attack, told them how the experience had sobered him up and he claimed to have given up both alcohol and gambling for good.
He was a changed man, he said. And he was about to start a new life with his new wife and stepchildren in their new house. Ethen did not believe a word of what was said at the dinner table, although he noticed that his mom seemed convinced. Or perhaps she was so smitten with her very own new husband, and the luxury lifestyle that came with him, that she was willing to believe anything is possible.
Either way, he sensed something strange that evening. An air of tension in the room, despite all the happy smiley faces. He took a closer look at Larissa’s younger brother Tommy. The boy was seated as far as possible from Albert and avoided eye contact with everyone but his sister. This reminded him of his own childhood and how he had tried to distance himself from his father and the regular beatings.
Ethen decided he had to have word with his father. He was 18 now and a responsible adult. When Albert offered to do the washing up, Ethen volunteered to join him in the kitchen.