Ethan Hicks made his way down the school hallway as he had so many times before. He and his friends were laughing and pushing each other as they made their way through the press of students. They were celebrating their win the day before at the cross country meet. Ethan had even gotten his first win since he had become part of the varsity cross country team for Madison High. Not bad for a sophomore.
His friend Adam had just given him a push and Ethan fell against a smaller boy, knocking him to the ground. "Sorry dude," Ethan said over his shoulder as Adam gave him a hand up and they walked away without a glance back.
The smaller boy got up and picked his backpack off the ground. He looked after the group of guys. "No problem Ethan," the boy said softly.
Chase Evans watched as Ethan and his friends turned the corner and disappeared from sight. A wistful expression came to his face as he watched the group of boys, especially Ethan. After a moment, he hitched his backpack higher upon his shoulder and let out a sigh of regret before he took on his usual posture, looking down at the ground and his shoulder length blond hair covering his face. He continued onto class. As he walked along others jostled him aside and he just let it happen.
"Hey spaz, watch where you're going," said one of the football players who had run into him, nearly knocking him down.
Chase looked up briefly as he caught his balance and saw the glare that was directed his way for a moment before the player moved out of sight. It was the kind of look that seemed to be what he had gotten on a daily basis since he started high school last year. He was a sophomore now and things hadn't really changed. He hadn't really had any close friends since sixth grade.
Things changed when they started middle school and he wasn't exactly sure what happened. Although part of it, he thought, was because he was so much smaller than his classmates. It was something that had been bugging him to no end. If his friends grew four inches, he grew one inch. Most of the guys that he had been friends with in sixth grade were now at least five and a half feet tall, while he had just barely reached five foot one over the summer. Now none of them even gave him a second look.
Chase was now looked down on by a lot of people. A lot of people, when they saw him, thought that he was thirteen instead of fifteen. He tried not to let it bother him, but of course it did bother him a lot. Sometimes he felt like just screaming at people to look at him, not over him, or through him, but at him. He felt invisible to most people. He wasn't completely alone. He had some guys who he was sorta friends with him, but it wasn't like it used to be with sleepovers at his friends and eating at each other's houses all the time. He couldn't remember the last time he had been invited over to a friend's house for dinner. He just knew it had been a long time.
That afternoon at cross country practice Chase sat his bike at the edge of some trees as he watched the cross country team running around the nearby regional park that was near his house. He watched the smooth clean strides of Ethan Hicks as he made the circuit of the practice course. It was easy to see why Ethan had made the team as a sophomore. He had the long easy stride of a good long distance runner. Chase couldn't keep his eyes off of Ethan. As Ethan completed the run, he continued walking so that he wouldn't cramp up as he cooled down. Some of the other members of the team came by and bumped fists or clapped him on the shoulder. He would answer each greeting with a smile and a word.
Chase's mouth turned up in a wan smile as he saw the way that that smile made Ethan's face light up. He remembered seeing a younger version of that smile directed at him. He wished it was still directed his way. That was the thing that he missed the most, Ethan's smile. Chase sighed as he turned his bike around, got on and pedaled away for home.
Ethan finished the bottle of water and was wiping the sweat from his forehead when he saw some movement in the trees. He stopped and saw what seemed to be a young guy with kinda long blond hair who looked to be about twelve or thirteen ride away. He paused for a moment as he watched the boy ride out of sight. He felt something weird, kind of familiar about the boy as he watched him, but he couldn't think of any sixth or seventh grader that he knew. He shrugged and turned back to his friends on the team.
When Chase got home, he hit the button to the garage door opener that he carried in his backpack and rode the bike into the garage. He saw that his Mom's car was there so he knew she was home. He hit the button by the inside door as he went into the house.
"Hi honey," his mom had turned from the kitchen counter where she was working on dinner and gave him a smile in greeting.
"Hi Mom." He walked up to her and hugged her, hanging on a little longer because he was feeling a little down after seeing Ethan at practice.
She felt something in that hug and turned around to face him. When he let go of the hug, she gently placed both hands on either side of his face and lifted his head up to look at her, "Are you okay, honey?"
He nodded and pulled up a smile to show her, masking most of what he really felt. "Sure, I'm okay." He looked down at the food she had been working on to try and change the subject. "What's for dinner?"
She let go of him and turned back to her work. "Shepherd's Pie."
Chase grinned, "Yumm! I'm going to go do my homework." He turned and headed off to his room to get his homework done.
He was almost finished with his math homework when his ten year old brother Matt came in his room. "Hey Chase, you almost done?"
Chase looked up and smiled "Yep. What do you want?"
Matt had his glove and baseball in his hands. "Wanna play some catch?"
Chase nodded, "Just a sec. I gotta couple of problems left, and then I'm done."
Matt smiled, "Kay, I'll be watching TV. Come get me."
Chase waved him off and got back to his homework. A few minutes later he was done and after putting everything back into his backpack, he went to his closet to get his baseball glove. He loved playing catch with Matt. They both liked baseball and he and Matt played catch all the time.
As he was leaving his room a picture hanging on the wall by the door caught his eye, as it did almost every time he left his room. It showed him and Ethan Hicks standing next to each other when they were about twelve. They were in their baseball uniforms holding slurpees, his was red, Ethan's was blue and they were sticking their tongues out, showing the red and blue coloring that the slurpees had transferred to their tongues. Both of them sported huge grins as well. Chase smiled and reached out to touch the picture as he remembered the day. After a moment, he let out a sigh and left to go grab Matt and head to the regional park that was just down the street from his house to play some catch for a little while until it was time for dinner. As they ran outside, they saw their Dad pull into the driveway, and they waved at him. He smiled and waved back as he got out of the car. Soon they were at the park and throwing the ball back and forth.
After dinner, Chase watched TV with his family for a little while before heading up to his room to get on his computer and play some games. He started to get tired of playing, so he turned on his TV and sat on his bed to watch it. He felt himself drifting off, so he turned off the TV and undressed so he could get to sleep. His last thoughts as he drifted off were about Ethan Hicks.
Chase was sleeping comfortably holding onto the arm that was wrapped around his chest. He opened his eyes and smiled at the arm that held him. He snuggled up to it and moved back until he could feel the warm body behind him. The arm tightened a little when it felt his movement. A short time later he felt a light touch of breath and then lips on the back of his neck and he giggled because it tickled a little bit. The lips kissed all around the back of his neck and his giggles increased. He opened his eyes and turned around until he was looking into Ethan's smiling face. He leaned forward to kiss Ethan and their arms tightened around each other until they were touching from head to toe. Their legs entwined with each other as they held and caressed each other while they kissed. Chase started to feel his excitement grow as the kiss deepened and he knew it wouldn't be long before…..BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Chase sat up quickly and looked around "Wha…where…" he said out loud as he looked around his room. He grinned a little as the dream came back to him.
The grin started to fade as he started to feel a sticky dampness in his nether regions. He threw the covers back and looked at his middle. "Shit! One of those dreams."
He carefully got out of bed and grabbed some clean underwear from his dresser and with mincing steps he walked to the door of his room and carefully opened it. He could hear movement from the other rooms. He saw that the bathroom door was opened so he quickly glanced down the hall and then ran to the door and quickly shut it behind him. In the bathroom he slowly peeled his wet underwear off and dropped them on the floor after hanging his clean underwear on a rack for after his shower. He started the shower and waiting for the water to be just right before stepping in and cleaning up. After his shower he took care of his other morning business before slipping his dry underwear on and picking up the soaked pair, he carefully checked to see if the coast was clear and he hurried back to his room. He finished dressing for the day and as he left his room, he paused at the picture and couldn't help himself as he kissed his finger and touched it to the Ethan in the picture. The dream had put a little smile on his face.
At lunch the next day, Ethan and his friends were eating together like they normally did. He was eating out of his bag of Doritos when Adam's elbow hit his arm making him drop the bag. It hit the edge of the table and then fell on the floor by his side. "Dude!" Ethan punched Adam on the arm.
Adam looked over at Ethan and saw him pick up the bag from the floor along with a couple of chips that had fallen out of the bag. "Oops, sorry bud." He gave Ethan a sheepish look.
Ethan just laughed at him and waved him off. As he sat back up a movement at the door of the cafeteria caught his eye and he saw someone with shoulder length blond hair leaving the room. It surprised him because even though he didn't get a good look at the kid, it looked like the young kid that he had seen at practice the day before. "I guess he's older than I thought," he said to himself. "Must be a freshman." He turned back to his friends and laughed at a joke Mike had just said. The kid forgotten, practically invisible.
Chase had only one class with Ethan and it was World History. He sat toward the back where the invisible people sat. From there he could look at Ethan who sat three seats up and one over from him. He studied the way his brown hair curled over his ear and down to the back of his neck. Occasionally Ethan would turn his head to the side and Chase would be able to see his profile. He smiled as he remembered the dream from this morning. He realized that he had been staring at Ethan and he quickly stopped and looked down at the textbook before him when he felt a tightening in his pants. He let the words on the page help him calm down and he felt better. He definitely would not want to anyone to see that when he stood up at the end of the class.
Ethan felt something weird and reached up to scratch the back of his neck. It felt kind of like an itch, but not. It was weird and he didn't know what to make of it. He shrugged it off and went back to looking at his textbook.
Chase once again went to watch the cross country practice. He just couldn't stay away. As he watched the runners, he decided that at the next meet, he would see if he could borrow his Mom's camera with the zoom lens so he could get some good pictures of Ethan running and…maybe winning.
Over the next few weeks, Chase continued to watch Ethan at practice whenever he could. For the next Saturday meet he was able to borrow his Mom's camera and took a lot of pictures. That afternoon when he got home he downloaded the pictures into his computer and started going over them. He discarded many of them, picking just a few to keep on his computer.
There was a couple he chose to print out. He put some photo paper that he had gotten from his Mom into his printer tray and printed the two pictures he liked best. One was with Ethan running near the front of a pack of runners with his head up looking ahead. When the second picture came out he carefully picked it up and looked at it. It was a picture of Ethan after he had just taken his shirt off and was dumping a bottle of water over his head as he looked up to the sky, letting the water cascade off his face and down his chest.
For the next several weeks, Chase followed the cross country team closely. He read about them in the local paper. He rejoiced when they won and felt bad when they lost. He started cutting out the articles, especially those that mentioned Ethan and he put them into a small scrapbook. From time to time he took some more pictures to add to his collection. Some of the pictures were put into the scrapbook along with the articles. Ethan was doing pretty well and had a chance to place well in finals. The regional park was chosen as the location for the league finals. Chase was happy about that, and he was looking forward to watching Ethan run in the finals.
The day of the meet was on Saturday and it looked like it was going to be a great day for running. There had been some rain a couple of days before, but the sun had come out and everything was pretty well dried out. The temperature was supposed to be in low 70's. The teams were in their warm up suits because it was a little cool right now, probably in the mid 60's. Chase had a light jacket and a ball cap on to stay warm. He watched as the runners stretched and warmed up.
There were a lot of people there to see the finals. All of the teams had canopies set up with banners on them announcing the teams in the tent city area. Family, friends and school supporters were everywhere all along the race waiting for it to begin.
The race was three miles. The league had been there since 6 am, setting up the course. They had marked the trail with flags and ribbons so there was no question which trails to use. It mixed runs through trees, over bridges, over some of the low hills and, of course, flat terrain. Chase had his camera ready and had already taken some pictures; most of them of Ethan of course, but there were pictures of some of the runners, even some runners from the other teams, mostly because they were cute.
What Chase did not realize is that Ethan had noticed him taking pictures. What caught his attention first was Chase's longish blond hair. Ethan didn't recognize him as his former friend Chase, only as the freshman that he had seen from time to time watching practice or supporting the team at a few of the meets. Ethan thought that maybe he was part of the school newspaper and was taking pictures for the school. He made a note to himself that he would see who the kid was after the race and thank him for supporting the team. He couldn't see what he looked like because whenever Ethan looked either the camera or his hair was partially covering his face. There was something about the kid that was familiar, the way he held himself and moved or something. It nagged at Ethan a little. He felt he should know him, but just couldn't place him. Maybe it was just that he had seen him around school and since he was a freshman, they didn't hang around in the same circle of friends.
Finally it came time for the races to start. The total distance was 3 miles. The league was trying out a new technology, chip timing. All of the runners were given an RFID chip that they attached to their shoes and the finish line had a pad that the runners crossed which would record the time as each runner finished the race. Each runners chip number was recorded and they knew that this would allow them to get accurate finishing times.
The first races off were the freshmen teams, both boys and girls. Madison High did okay and Chase used the first two races to plan out where he could go to get good pictures of the runners when it came time for the varsity team to run. He didn't want to move too far away from the finish line, because he wanted to make sure he was right there to see Ethan finish and hopefully get a good picture of him as he crossed the line.
The varsity teams were called to the starting line and each team lined up as a group. The crowd of runners could be distinguished by the colors of the uniforms. Once the officials saw that the runners appeared to be ready, the starter raised his starter pistol, waited a few moments. The runners waited intently for the beginning of the race. They leaned forward a little, ready to run waiting for the starter's pistol to fire. The runner's bodies were tensed like a coiled spring ready to hurl them down the course. The crack of the pistol split the air and the race was on. There was cheering and encouragement from the crowd as the race started. People were calling out the names of their brother or friend as the boys ran by.
Chase joined in on the yelling, "Go Ethan, Go!" he yelled as Ethan ran by. In the periphery of his hearing, Ethan detected that yell out of all the others around them and his mind registered it as having a familiar ring to it. He glanced around to see if he could see who it was. He saw the blond haired freshman pumping his fist in the air. Again he got that feeling of familiarity and it distracted him for a moment causing him to stumble a little over a slight rise in the ground.
Chase saw the stumble and stopped jumping around and clamped his hands over his mouth as his eyes got big. He noticed that Ethan had looked at him just before he stumbled and he was sure it was his fault. However, he saw the Ethan recovered easily and quickly and continued on. Chase held his hand over his heart and smiled when he realized it was going to be okay. Chase then moved to the first place he wanted to take pictures from. The runners came by and Chase kept an eye out for Ethan and kept his mouth shut. He didn't want to distract him, like he apparently did at the beginning. When Ethan came into view, he seemed to be running fine. Chase snapped a couple of shots as Ethan ran by.
Ethan noticed the freshman on the side of the track with his camera up and ready. Once Ethan ran by, Chase ran to the next spot he had scouted out earlier. He set up again. This time he turned the motor drive on and waited. As soon as he saw Ethan getting nearer, he started the pictures. Ethan saw him as he came by and he glanced to the side and smiled at the kid with the camera.
When Chase quit taking pictures he just stared after Ethan. Had Ethan smiled at him? He looked at the back of the digital camera and went back through the frames. Sure enough, there was Ethan looking at him and smiling. Chase's face changed as he took in the picture. God, he was gorgeous and the smile made his face glow. Chase was trembling with excitement. Did Ethan finally remember who he was? Chase suddenly remembered where he was and knew he wanted to get a good spot at the finish line, so he quickly made his way to the finish line. He placed himself so he could see the runners as they crossed the line heading right for him. He knew that cross country races lasted about fifteen minutes, so he knew he had a few minutes yet.
While he waited he looked around to see if he saw anyone he knew. His gaze stopped when they came to a couple standing there wearing the Madison High colors. It was Ethan's parents, Randy and Mary. For a moment he almost went over to say hi to them, but he didn't want to lose his spot so he stayed where he was. He thought, maybe, he would go say hi after the meet was over. Maybe he might get to say hi to Ethan as well. The crowd's attention became focused and the cheering grew as the runners came into sight. Chase almost crossed his fingers hoping that Ethan would be first, but as they neared the finish, he saw that a runner from another team was in the lead.
Chase was a little disappointed, but he knew he had to get ready, so he uncrossed his fingers and focused in on the runners, set the motor drive and waited. There he was. Chase could see that Ethan was really kicking and had just passed the guy in the third place and was trying to catch up to the runners in front of him. His face was red and as he put everything into it, trying to catch the next runner. His parents were yelling his name. Chase just watched for a moment before he realized he should be taking pictures. He pushed the button and the camera started humming as it took pictures. Chase kept the camera on Ethan as he neared the second place runner. He was holding his breath and thought to himself, "Come on Ethan, go, go, go, go, you got it."
Ethan was just a couple of steps behind the second place runner, when the guy realized Ethan was right there and he poured on a little more speed. Ethan stayed with him, but as they crossed the finish line, the guy finished in second place, just a step in front of Ethan.
Chase stopped taking pictures and was pumping his fist and shouting, "Yes! Yes!" and jumping around a little. His cap flew off and landed behind him.
Ethan saw the freshman celebrating with him and he looked over, smiled and gave him a thumbs up.
Chase saw that and stopped jumping around and gave him an answering thumbs up.
Just then Ethan was surrounded by coaches, friends and teammates. He had just finished third in the league. The rest of the team had done pretty well also and it looked like the Madison Varsity boys team might be league champions and would move on to the regional's.
Chase turned around to pick his hat up, when he heard his cell phone go off. When he stood back up, he reached in his pocket and answered it.
"Hi Mom…..oh yeah, I forgot….sorry….I was watching the cross country finals…..okay, I'll be home in a couple of minutes….yep, see ya."
He closed the phone and put it back in his pocket. He put the camera back in his backpack and went to where he had locked his bike. He looked back, once more, toward the finish line and with a smile on his face he got on and rode home. He had forgotten that they were supposed to go to his grandma's that afternoon and his family was waiting for him to come home so that they could get going.
Ethan was smiling and accepting the congratulations of his friends and teammates. He glanced around a couple of times to see if he could spot the kid who was taking pictures, but people kept getting in the way. His parents were finally able to get to him and when they did, he spotted the kid riding away. He felt a little disappointment that he hadn't gotten to say thanks to the kid. Well, he would try to find him at school. Maybe some of the guys on the freshman cross country team knew the kid. He'd look for him on Monday.
His dad and mom gave him a hug and congratulated him on his run. The boys cleared the area and turned in their tags to the judges. The teams went back to their canopies and drank water while they waited for the results. When they came in it was Madison High varsity boys team that won for best overall time. Ethan, of course, had the best time for the team. They had the awards ceremony and Ethan got his 3rd place medal and the team received the league championship trophy.
That evening after they got back from his grandparents house, Chase put the SD card into his computer and downloaded the photos he had taken. Several were kind of blurry and he deleted them. He picked out some of the good ones of the team to put into the scrapbook. He carefully chose the ones he liked best of Ethan. One was when Ethan gave him a smile. The other was just after he had crossed the finish line and had a big smile on his face. Chase printed those two out for framing. He had a few pictures that he had taken during the season that he had put into frames to hang on his wall, not many but a few. He had a file on his computer that had all of his Ethan pictures. He opened that one and looked at the pictures of Ethan as he thought about the smile that Ethan had given him as he ran by. Later, when he lay down to sleep, it was that image that was in his head. He fell asleep with a smile on his face.
Monday morning everyone was celebrating the win by the cross country team. There was a morning assembly called to congratulate the team and show the championship trophy to the school. Each of the team members were called out and everyone cheered. The loudest cheers were given to Ethan since he had the best time of all the Madison High runners. Chase was smiling the whole time and cheering along with everyone else. Lunch period was next after the assembly. Chase went into the cafeteria and saw the crowd around Ethan and his teammates. He got his lunch and sat where he normally did watching them. He couldn't help smiling as he looked at Ethan and saw how happy he was. Chase finished eating and he saw the team got up together to head outside. As they made their way through the cafeteria, people called out to them with congratulations. Chase saw that they were going to go right by him on their way out.
He gathered his courage and raised his voice enough so that Ethan could hear him, "Good job Ethan."
Ethan glanced in his direction and yelled "Thanks dude," before he was hustled off by his friends.
Chase's smile dipped a little and he shrugged, "I guess I'm still invisible." He threw his trash away and left the cafeteria by another exit, his shoulder's drooping and his head hanging a little.
A few moments later when Ethan got outside, another feeling of familiarity hit him. It was the voice of the guy who had yelled "Good job", just as he was leaving the cafeteria. He felt he should know it, but couldn't place it. He looked around to see if he could see who it was, but he didn't see anyone that he thought might have said that. He shrugged and continued laughing and talking with his friends and admirers.
In World History that afternoon, Chase watched Ethan with a wistful expression. If only he wasn't so invisible, they could be friends again, like they used to be. They could go do things together, but Chase was invisible, so that probably won't happen. If only….
That afternoon when he got home Ethan was still kind of pumped up over the assembly and the way everyone, even the older students kept congratulating him. He decided to ride his mountain bike for a little while before dinner time. He headed in the direction of the regional park and when he got there he rode over part of the course. Finally, he remembered the bridge over the river that was just outside the park. He headed toward the road that ran along the river for a little while before it crossed the bridge.
As he rode along the side of the road he looked ahead and saw the bridge and it brought a smile to his face as he remembered when he was younger he used to come out here with….he paused and suddenly yelled "Chase. That's who it is, it's Chase." He remembered how he and Chase used to come out here and stand and look down at the water flowing under the bridge. Sometimes they would throw rocks into it and spit or just lean on the railing and talk.
He berated himself, how could he forget Chase? They had been best friends. They did everything together, then something happened and they drifted apart. How could he let that happen? Well, he decided, he was going to fix that. Maybe he could go by Chase's house when he went home. He suddenly had an idea, he was going to call his mom and tell her that he was going to Chase's house.
He got so excited about getting together with Chase that he started to speed up as he reached into his back pocket to pull his phone out and it wasn't there, so he stood up on the pedals so he could check his front pocket and was looking down as he reached into the pocket, so he didn't see the rock that was partially covered by some soft dirt just ahead of him. With only one hand holding the handle bars loosely, his front wheel hit the rock and pulled the bars right out of his hand and twisted violently to the right. Before he knew what had happened he was flying over the handlebars and down the steep slope of the riverbank. He flew about ten feet before he hit the ground the first time. He put his hands out to try to stop his fall and he heard a crack and a searing pain in his left arm. He tumbled and his right leg folded under him in an awkward position, there was another searing pain in his ankle. As he took his next tumble he saw the rock coming at him for a split second before his head slammed into it. The last thing he heard and felt was a splash as he hit the water and then nothing.