"Oh, forget it," Ethan said in a hoarse voice, and then she saw his expression simply change, as if he'd made a decision to switch over into the self- protective mode of irony. "You have nothing to feel sorry about. I think I'll find a way to live. A way not to commit suicide because you didn't want to make out with me, Jules." She didn't say anything, but just looked downward at her feet in their yellow clogs on the dusty shed floor. For a second she thought he was going to turn away furiously and leave her here, and she would have to head back through the trees alone. Jules saw herself stumbling over exposed tree roots, and eventually Gudrun Sigurdsdottir's sturdy flashlight would be used to find her in the woods, where she would be sitting against a tree, shaking. But then Ethan said, "I don't want to be a dick about this. I mean, people have been rejected by other people since the dawn of time."
"I've never rejected anyone before in my life," Jules said fiercely. "Although," she added, "I've never accepted anyone before either. What I mean is, it's never come up."
"Oh," he said. He stayed by her side as they trudged back up the hill together. When they reached the top, Ethan turned to her, and she expected to be met with something sarcastic, but instead he said, "Maybe the reason you don't want to do this with me isn't even because of me."
"What do you mean?"
"You say you haven't rejected or accepted anyone before," he said. "You are one hundred percent inexperienced. So maybe you're just nervous. Your nervousness could be masking your real feelings."
"You think so?" she asked, doubtful.
"Could be. It happens to girls sometimes," he added, overstating his worldliness. "So I have a proposition for you." Jules waited. "Reconsider," Ethan said. "Spend more time with me and let's see what happens."
It was such a reasonable request. She could spend more time with Ethan Figman, experimenting with the idea of being part of a couple. Ethan was special, and she did like being singled out by him. He was a genius, and that counted for a great deal with her, she understood. "All right," she finally told him.
"Thank you," said Ethan. "To be continued," he added cheerfully. Only when he'd dropped her off at her own teepee did he leave her. Jules went inside and stood getting ready for bed, pulling off her T-shirt and unhooking her bra. Across the teepee Ash Wolf was already in bed, encased in her sleeping bag that was red flannel lined, with a repeating pattern of cowboys swinging lariats. Jules intuited that at one point it had probably belonged to her brother.
"So where were you?" Ash asked.
"Oh, Ethan Figman wanted to show me one of his films. And then we started talking, and it just gotit's hard to explain."
Ash said, "That sounds mysterious."
"No, it was nothing," said Jules. "I mean, it was something, but it was strange."
"I know what they're like," Ash said.
"What what are like?"
"Those moments of strangeness. Life is full of them," Ash said.
"What do you mean?"
"Well," said Ash, and she got out of her own bed and came to sit beside Jules. "I've always sort of felt that you prepare yourself over the course of your whole life for the big moments, you know? But when they happen, you sometimes feel totally unready for them, or even that they're not what you thought. And that's what makes them strange. The reality is really different from the fantasy."
"That's true," Jules said. "That's just what happened to me." She looked with surprise at the pretty girl sitting on her bed; it seemed that this girl understood her, even though Jules had told her nothing. The whole evening was taking on various exquisite meanings.
Excerpted from The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. Copyright © 2013 by Meg Wolitzer. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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