Can't Help It

Chapter 6

"That deaf, dumb, and blind kid

Sure plays a mean pinball."

Like sand through the hourglass, the weeks passed quickly. Frisbee practice grew somewhat more amicable between Ethan and I, a temporary truce fit only for the field and unable to be maintained throughout Charley's pointed and embarrassingly suggestive comments that I was falling hard for him.

I didn't have the heart to admit to myself that I very well could be. I also struggled not to admit to myself that he only grew funnier and more attractive to me. Therefore, instead of participating in post-game celebrations, I avoided all contact with him (and Charley's obnoxiousness) and went home alone to wallow on my couch instead.

Charley, however, was slipping into a worrying delirium that wrapped her in a blanket of sunshine and vomit—the sunshine being her love, and the vomit being my utter repulsion by it. As her and James (and really? Has James ever even said anything interesting ever? I can't even bring to mind a single time when he'd done anything but smile and stare into space… he's like a Stepford Wife, but worse… a Stepford Husband!) grew closer, Charley and I rapidly fell by the wayside. She stopped coming home at night. Then she stopped coming home for dinner. Next thing you know, her toothbrush is gone and I find myself texting her forlornly from the couch during an all-day Law and Order SVU marathon.

Do you still exist? I texted during a particularly sexually charged moment between Benson and Stabler.

My phone whistled at me to signify her response and full episode later. It had been an agonizing hour in which the rapist in question had gotten away. Ha. Yes, just avoiding your terrifying face for fear I go blind.


Another half hour passed before she responded. Seriously? My best friend once texted me in the middle of her Grandfather funeral just so she wouldn't have to keep me waiting! I'm losing her… and worst of all, I'm losing her to a stupid boy!

Her text read: Really sorry, Darce! I'm busy at the mo… Girl date for tomorrow. Your fav restaurant and then the sappy chick-flick of your choosing. Make it count, if you don't come out crying, you've done it wrong!

We hadn't had a girl date in so long! I grinned to myself and texted back, Nudity trumps sob stories. If there isn't an insanely gorgeous man walking around mostly naked for the majority of the movie, then I just don't wish to partake.

The credits rolled on my eighth episode of L&O of the day… I figured I should get up off my ass… after this next episode.

That's my girl! ;) Pick you up at 8!

Tomorrow became today faster than you can say… a word that takes 24-hours to say. But, it seemed rather suddenly that I was donning a tank-top and jeans and hopping into my car to go meet Charley, excited at the prospect of laying eyes on my best friend's face once again.

I walked happily into my favorite Chinese restaurant, told the strangely confused Asian woman who I was looking for and was led to a table that made my heart stop beating quickly in my chest.

"Oh good, Darcy! You're here!"

Ow, ow. My chest is burning! Why is this happening to me? There before me sat, Charley, James and Ethan all staring happily at their menus and totally and utterly unperturbed by my sudden and efficient heart failure.

This is not girls' night. This is a double date! My entire brain was screaming in utter and specific hatred for a one Charley Bingley, my former best friend.

I seriously considered just pivoting on my feet and walking straight back out of the restaurant. Instead I took a rather reluctant seat at the last remaining side of the table and glared pointedly and extendedly at a seemingly oblivious Charley.

What. A. Bitch.

"So Darcy. How has work been?" James asked after a long and tense silence between all four members of our party.

I directed my glare at him instead. "I spent 45 minutes on the phone with an old lady who couldn't figure out how to turn her lights on. How do you think my day was?"

"So… good then?" Ethan tried to stifle his laughter behind his menu, but only succeeded in becoming the latest victim of my death-glare of misery. I wish he hadn't too, for now I was forced to take in his presence—his slightly damp, freshly-showered hair; his oxford button-up with the sleeves slightly rolled; his attempt to conceal his dimpled smirk from me and utter determination to look at anyone but me.

Then it hit me: Was Ethan here as a double date? He'd obviously taken a shower, put on nicer clothes. This wasn't something guys did just to third-wheel on the world's most sickening couple. Had he… wanted to see me? Unlike me, he wasn't putting up a fight, sulking in the misery of surprise guests. He was… smiling… and happy… and well groomed. Had the truce finally found its way off the field?

Or, better question: Did I want it to?

And as this conflicting storm of hope and complete and utter dread combined with a smattering of confusion raged inside of me, the worst possible thing that could have happened in this moment did.

"Hey guys," our waitress approached and I looked up from the menu. "Can I take you ord—"

For the second time that evening, my heart completely stopped. Except this time for real.

"Jocelyn?" Ethan said, looking up at her and obviously not undergoing the same shock and rage that was coursing through my veins.

Jocelyn Wickham is two things: A man-stealing, life-ruining, queen of all that is nasty and terrible, ginger bitch; and a cu**. We'd met in college when I was ten times to the wind obsessed with Jordan Peters. This was back when I was not a bitter and cynical lass and still believed things could work out between me and a member of the male sex. Anyway, Jordan and I stopped in a party at my dear friend, Jocelyn's house. We're holding hands, I'm insanely happy/stupid, drinks are flowing. Next thing I know I wake up on her couch and she's having sex with Jordan two doors away.

But whatever. Probably wouldn't have worked out with Jordan anyway and for some insane reason I believed her when she said that she'd been drunk and he'd seduced her. Then she told me about her financial worries, how she might have to drop out of school and I'm dumb enough to make the completely idiotic decision to loan her some money so she can pay her tuition while she finds a new job.

$10,000 later and I'm now really into this guy named Kevin. I introduce her to Kevin, slightly more cautiously, I must admit, and everything seems to go ok. Weeks pass. About four of them before I notice that her and Kevin have not only been sexting behind my back, but she's also been living out her sick little fantasies with him for almost a month. A month!

As I said: Cu**.

Charley, who has suddenly returned to being my best friend, is bristling beside me while I'm still trying to process the facts that A) Jocelyn Wickham is standing right in front of me (the last time I saw her was at a graduation party a year ago and I may have pulled out a chunk of her hair…) and B) By some twist of horrific fate, is on a first name basis with none other than Ethan Bennett.

Fuck my life.

Jocelyn, noticing the way I have gone into complete and other shock and that Charley looks as if she is about to leap across the table and pounce on her at any moment, does the first smart thing she's ever done in her life and briskly walks away.

"What was that-?" James asks the table at large. Meanwhile Charley has turned to me and is asking me repeatedly, "We should go. Do you want to go? Should we go? You want to leave, right?"

Ethan is just staring at me, for once not smirking at my misery, but his forehead crinkled in complete in utter confusion. He has a question waiting on his lips. I know this, because I have the same one. How the hell does he know Jocelyn Wickham?

I take a deep breath and speak the first words that I've uttered throughout this entire dramatic escapade, "No. It's ok. Let's just eat."

James sneaks away quietly and by the time he's returned we've all fallen back into a tense silence. Only this time I'm glaring at the table instead of its occupants.

"I requested another waitress," James mutters, very casually. "I think I'm getting the General Tao's Chicken. What about you, Ethan?"

Ethan is staring into space, completely and utterly lost for a full minute. "What? Oh… uh. Noodles probably. Haven't decided."

I sneak a glance at him only to see him watching me curiously and not his menu. His eyes look at me questioningly, but I try not to give anything away and just return my gaze to the table.

The rest of the meal is tense to say the least, but we struggle through under the forced conversation of James and Charley, until finally they just leave Ethan and I alone with our surly replies and they float back off into Rock Candy Mountain to roll around in the fields of bliss.

Ethan and I don't utter a single word between us, but I can't help but alternate between watching Jocelyn wander pointedly around the restaurant without once veering in our direction, and watching Ethan watch Jocelyn wander around the restaurant.

The entire time my chest is filled with dread. I'm going to lose. I always lose to Jocelyn. And now more than ever I decide to stay as far away from Ethan Bennett as is physically possible. By the time we finally leave the restaurant, I've not only taken myself out of the running, but fallen into a daydream that spans the next 15 years in which I attend Ethan and Jocelyn's wedding and cry myself to sleep to that really depressing song by Adele.

"So… how about that movie?" Charley asks as we all tumble though the door and into the parking lot.

"I think I'm out," I say, affecting a yawn.

"I'm in if you are…" James replies shyly as Ethan says, "I'd rather skip this one."

Ethan frowns. "Well… I rode with you guys…"

Charley looks at me, a bit of the mischievous sparkle that I hate so much is back in her eyes. "Would you…?"

My entire body almost collapses in defeat. I can't just say no or I look like an utter bitch, but my entire being is conflicted by the thought of being confined to a car with the boy I've just decided it would be very harmful to like. I release a breath of defeat and reluctantly agree.

"Damn you, Charley," I mutter into her ear as she hugs me gratefully and prances across the parking lot with James. Ethan follows me silently to my 4-Runner and climbs into the front seat, expressing nothing but mild fascination with my leather seats.

"Nice car," he says as I start the engine. "Did your parents buy you this?"

I'm slightly taken aback by such a random comment. I look at him briefly, my head tilted slightly to the side. "No," I say with finality.

The car fills with silence again. "Its just a really nice car," he says as I pull into traffic.

"Why are we talking about this?" I ask, checking my blind spots and confused by his persistence.

"So we don't have to discuss the elephant in the room," he says, looking fully at me as I watch him in my periphery.

For a brief and shining second I think he's talking about the weird, sexual tension I reluctantly feel burning between us, but then I realize he's talking about Jocelyn.

"It's a car."

He shrugs and tries not to grin. "Ok. The elephant in the car, then."

Again the silence becomes overwhelming, stretching out for a solid 30-seconds before Ethan becomes overwhelmed and starts up again. "Did your dad buy you this car?"

"My dad?"

"It's a very fatherly car. Very safe… and expensive. It looks brand new. Graduation gift, maybe?" He's still watching me, but he's not smirking, just studying me like he's trying to figure something out.

"My dad's dead."

"Oh. Sorry." He shifts entirely in his seat, hiding his shame at such an assumption by staring out the other window.

The silence, if anything, has gotten worse, now filled not only with the Jocelyn elephant, but also the elephant of bringing up my dead father… not exactly a great end to an utterly shitty night, and I find myself slipping into thoughts of my father and wishing I had just turned and left the moment I realized this was no longer a girl date.

"We're really not going to talk about Jocelyn Wickham?" Ethan asks at last, finally turning back in his seat so he can watch my response.

I try to remain as unexpressive as possible and continue to watch the road. "No. We're not," I say as steady as I can, once again vowing to quit the fight before it even begins. I just can't handle another heartache… particularly not at the hand of Jocelyn Wickham, once again.

"Right." Ethan shrugs. "Radio it is then." He reaches to my dash and turns it on, filling my car with classic rock instead of the sickening tension of pointed silence. The only other words we utter throughout the ride are him singing along badly to "Pinball Wizard" and giving precise and brusque directions to his house.

I pull up to his house and take a deep breath in relief. Relief that I won't have to stifle the patter in my chest at the subtle scent of his recent shower and utter man-ness (it radiates off him), and withhold the giggle in my throat as he reaches ambitiously for the high-notes.

The breath of relief is premature. Just as Ethan places his hand on the door handle, and is about to swing it open and relieve me of our proximity, he stops and looks back at me. "Listen, " he says and I can't help the way my attention snaps back to him. "I don't really know what happened tonight, but I'm completely and utterly baffled by you. I came out tonight hoping I could figure out what's going on in the pretty little head of yours, but I just continue to be stumped by the enigma that is Darcy Fitzgerald. I just… I just think you should know that one of these days I'm going to figure you out and I don't think I'm going to like what I find."

Our gaze had somehow gotten heated. In fact, I felt my entire body light with a fire that made me wildly uncomfortable—like staring directly at the sun. I don't think I'd ever looked head-on at Ethan's eyes. They were a brilliant blue, smack dab in the middle of his dark hair and deep eyelashes.

I didn't know what to do but stare into his eyes, unable to look away at the fierceness I'd found inside. I shrugged and forced myself to break his gaze, fearing that my inner monologue was beginning to sound a bit like a bad romance novel.

I looked at my speedometer, contemplating why he was so determined to figure me out. "I don't think I'm going to like it either," I replied, for lack of anything else to say.

I felt my entire resolve melt away and disappear as he slid out of the front seat of my car. There was going to be no walking away from this one, was there?

Plus… I think he called me pretty.

Late, late, late. But still... Longer than usual! And better? Geez I don't know if it's better. You tell me! I'm actually impressed that I've managed to find time to write this. Mainly because I'm exhausted. Nextly, because I'm sick. Finally, because it's Carnival and insane.

Thanks, my banging reviewers. This one was for you. Keep being awesome because those were the most awesome reviews I ever did get. And you inspired me to right this/ made me guilty when I wasn't writing this. Great job! Now... What else you got?

Lastly, sorry if Ethan is a bit creepy. It's just that you all know what his side of the story is... I think to Darcy some of the things real Elizabeth does might seem a bit strange? Maybe? No? Don't listen to me. I'm freaking crazy.

Are you reading this? Ok. I'll stop writing now.