By Philip Hoy
Evelyn’s purse began to vibrate in her lap again. Her phone had been going off all morning. She knew who it was. Mr. Schwartz was standing only two desks away, but he had his back to her, explaining something to Luis. He would be a while.
“Hey. Why won’t you return my text?”
It was Mark. Evelyn looked up from her purse. Schwartz was still explaining.
She switched the pencil to her left hand and began thumbing the keys on the phone in her purse with her right, “I’m in class.”
“I’ve been texting you all morning.”
“I’m in class.”
“You didn’t call me back last night.”
Schwartz was now leaning heavily on Luis’s desk with one hand and gesturing in the air with the other, his hand fluttering as he spoke like a one-winged bird. “My mom was mad I got back so late.”
“Did she take your phone?”
“Why didn’t you call me back then?”
Her thumb twitched once, but remained hovering above the keys. Wasn’t it obvious? Did she have to spell it out for him?
The phone vibrated again, but she was no longer holding it. Her hand had drifted up toward her face and her fingertips pressed lightly to her lips, remembering…
“I’ll try not to be home too late,” Evelyn said, slinging her back pack over her shoulder and opening the back kitchen door. She told her mother she was going to her friend’s house to study, but just to be on the safe side, she had done the dinner dishes before she asked. Jennifer’s parents were out of town and wouldn’t be back until tomorrow.
“You’re walking?” her mother asked, looking up from her ironing.
“She only lives two streets over mom.” Evelyn had considered offering to iron her dad’s work uniforms, but that might have made her mom suspicious.
Her mother frowned past her at the purpling sky outside.
“Can you believe he’s giving us another test already?” Evelyn complained, as if in response to her mother’s concern for the time, “I mean, we just had a test on Monday.”
“And you’re going over there dressed in that?” her mother asked, eyeing the baggy sweat pants, sandals, and old t-shirt Evelyn was wearing.
“Mom, it’s just Jennifer’s.”
“And is that brother of hers going to be there? The football player. What’s his name?”
“Oh please mother, he has a girl friend.”
“Hmm. You better make sure you’re just studying.”
“We are mother, I promise,” she said, stepping outside and closing the door before her mother had time to change her mind.
Evelyn stopped on the dark side of the house where her dad kept the trash cans to pull off the sweats and t-shirt and stuff them into her back-pack. Underneath, she was wearing the black tank-top dress Jennifer had loaned her. “Robert won’t be able to resist you!” Jennifer had declared the night before, “You have to wear it to my party!” Evelyn smoothed the wrinkles as best she could from the front of the skirt, shoved the back-pack between two trash cans, and slipped out the side gate.
“And you’re positive he’s coming?” Evelyn had asked Jennifer.
“For the hundredth time, yes,” Jennifer had said, “We’ve been texting each other all day.”
“All day? I don’t even have his number.”
“Well, it’s not right for me to give it to you, he has to do it.”
Evelyn could hear the thump of music coming from inside Jennifer’s house as she walked up the driveway. The garage door was open, but it was dark inside so she tried the front door instead. It was unlocked. Sounds of talking and laughing were coming from the kitchen. Jennifer’s voice was the loudest, but Evelyn thought she recognized Robert’s laugh in the mix.
The brightly lit kitchen was crowded with people. “Evelyn!” Jennifer shouted as she entered the room.
“Evelyn!” the crowd echoed as everyone turned to stare at her.
“To Evelyn!” Jennifer said loudly, lifting her drink high in the air with one arm. The other was wrapped tightly around Robert’s waist.
“To Evelyn!” shouted Robert along with the rest, his arm wrapped just as tightly around Jennifer. They all drank.
“You wore my dress!” Jennifer screeched, as if Evelyn had surprised her with a gift of flowers. “It looks good on you! Doesn’t she look good, Robert?”
Evelyn turned and flew from the room before Robert – or anyone else – had a chance to answer. The nearest way out was the back door leading to the garage. She rushed through it, slammed it shut behind her, and ran straight into Jennifer’s brother, Mark.
“Evelyn?” Mr. Schwartz was standing in the front of the class. “What do you think, Evelyn?” Everyone had turned to look at her. “We’re talking about the symbolism of the forest in the story. You looked like you had something important to say.”
Evelyn knew this was Schwartz’s way of telling her to pay attention. “The forest?” she repeated, and her purse vibrated in her lap.
“Yes, the one in the book that you have open in front of you on your desk.”
Evelyn looked down at her notes from the day before, “Fear… of… the… unknown?”
“O… kay,” he said, sounding a little disappointed, “Yes, but what else? How does the forest contrast with the town?”
“No rules?” someone said.
“Yes, okay,” Schwartz shifted his attention to the other side of the room, “In the forest, the same rules don’t apply, right?”
Evelyn chanced a look at her phone. “Stop ignoring me!” it read.
She dropped her hand into her purse again and thumbed a response, “I’m in class!”
“I’ll be waiting for you outside.”
“Whoa, hey, Evelyn, where’re you going?” Mark asked, not moving out of her way.
“Home,” she said, trying to push past him.
“But you just got here.”
“She’s always doing things like this to me!” Evelyn shouted. “I don’t even know why we’re friends!” And then she started crying. “How can you even put up with her?” she sobbed.
“Who else is going to take care of her?” he asked.
She let Mark guide her over to the old couch against the wall in the garage. He disappeared for a second and returned with a large white handkerchief, handing it to Evelyn. She wiped her eyes and nose with it before she realized he’d given her a t-shirt.
“Don’t worry,” he said, gesturing to the washer and dryer against the opposite wall, “I got it from the clean pile.”
“Hey, it’s okay. Mind if I sit?”
She shrugged. Mark took this for a yes and sat down next to her on the couch. The garage wasn’t as dark from the inside as it first seemed. The glow from the street lights gave a silvery outline to the objects around her, including Mark. She realized he had probably watched her walk up the driveway just minutes earlier.
“Not what you expected, huh?”
“You know, it’s not really my scene,” she said, trying to laugh.
He chuckled at that, “I can dig what you’re saying, sister.”
“And you? Why aren’t you in there?”
“Aw, you know,” he said, making his voice as deep as possible, “I’m trying to watch my figure,” and he leaned toward Evelyn a little and flexed his muscled arm.
Evelyn felt her eyes widen.
His face broke into an embarrassed grin and for a moment he looked just like a little boy.
Evelyn could feel her own face grow suddenly warm.
Neither one spoke for what seemed like minutes, but then, before she could stop herself, Evelyn asked, “So, where’s your girlfriend?”
“Stacy? She couldn’t get out. You know, school night and all.”
“Yeah, I know.”
There was more uncomfortable silence.
Evelyn searched for some other topic – anything besides Mark’s girlfriend, but her mind was filled suddenly with the memory of the day about a month ago when Mark and Stacy were walking in front of her on their way to class. She wasn’t trying to stalk them, but when she got to her own class, she just looked straight ahead and kept walking after them. Stacy was wearing his lettermen’s jacket. He was carrying her books. They were holding hands. Mark and Stacy: the football star and the cheerleader. Talk about a cliché. It would be pathetic if they didn't look so good together.
The couple stopped suddenly in front of the open door of a class room and Mark pulled Stacy toward him for a kiss. Without thinking, Evelyn shifted her back pack to one side and let it hit Stacy hard on the shoulder as she hurried past them. She heard Stacy’s muffled complaint behind her as she let the crowd carry her around the next corner.
On an adrenaline surge of guilty excitement, she hurried back to her own class. She hadn’t told anyone about that day, not even Jennifer.
Not sure what exactly would come out, she opened her mouth and said, “Have you read The Scarlet Letter?”
“The Scarlet Letter. You know, the girl has to wear a big A on her chest and the minister can't admit he's the father.”
“Oh yeah, Shwartz's class. With the wild little girl in the forest.”
“Yeah, we’re reading it right now.”
“Have you made it to the part where the little girl is throwing rocks at the seagulls?”
“I’m not sure—“
“Really?” Mark asked, sounding genuinely interested, “That’s like my favorite part.”
“Oh, she’s like on the beach with her mom and her mom’s talking with the Chillingworth dude?” They were little grey birds, actually. Not that it really mattered.
“Yeah, and the little girl—what’s her name?”
“Yeah, Pearl. Well she has this like wild streak in her right? And she starts throwing rocks at these birds, having fun, you know?”
“I think I remember.” Of course she remembered, but she couldn’t help wondering why Mark was so into that part of the story. Schwartz hadn’t really even talked about it in class.
“Well, she hits one, and breaks its wing. And then the fun goes out of it because she realizes the birds and her are the same – both wild. Her mom’s being punished for having her and her dad won’t support her. I mean she’s got a lot to be angry about – but she’s not a bad person, she’s not really mean. She’s just a kid, you know?”
“Yeah, I never really thought of it that way.” Evelyn could hear the steady pulse of music and the clamor of voices coming from inside the house. Her recent humiliation in the kitchen seemed so unimportant now.
“…with sudden… tenderness… she threw her… arms around him… and pressed…“
Oh no, thought Evelyn, we’re reading? That man had no mercy what-so-ever! Now she would have to pay attention. And who was reading, anyway, Pita? She might as well be whispering.
Evelyn waved her hand in the air to get Mr. Schwartz’s attention and then gestured desperately toward her ear.
“Lupita,” he said, “a little louder, please.”
There, that would convince Schwartz she was, “fully engaged,” as he liked to say.
“…we are not… Hester… the worst sinners… in the… world… There is one … worse…”
She placed her finger at the top of the next paragraph in case she was next to read, and with her other hand sent, “She’ll see,” on her phone to Mark.
“Her class is in 200’s,” he replied.
A car drove by and momentarily lit up the inside of the garage, causing the shadows to sway across the walls like branches in the wind. “What are you thinking,” Mark asked her when it was dark again.
“That I lied to my mom to come here.”
He turned to look at her.
“And you?” she said, “Tell me what you were thinking.”
She felt his eyes on her face.
“When I was… ten, probably, I was playing with my friend in his back yard.” He stopped, studying her face a moment before continuing. “We caught this pigeon. We snuck up on it and threw a sheet over it like a big net, like in the movies, you know? Well, it couldn’t fly away, so it started running around the yard with the sheet over its head, dragging the cover around, bumping into things. It looked so funny. We were laughing so hard. ‘Hold it! Hold it!’ my friend started yelling so I stepped on the corner of the sheet. ‘It’s getting away!’ I was yelling.”
He was sitting with his hands between his knees, rubbing his palms together roughly as he spoke. “Then my friend picked up a brick, you know, the ones that go around like a flower garden, or whatever – I mean, he could barely lift it – and ran over and dropped it on the pigeon.”
“Oh my God, what did you do?”
“We were still laughing, you know? It was like the pigeon wasn’t even there any more – just the sheet… and then blood started to soak through the white – like this dark red spreading out… I just ran home. I didn’t tell anyone.”
She reached out with one hand and placed it over his. He stopped rubbing them together.
“Anyway,” he said, and he turned and gave her one of his trademark, heartbreaker smiles, “that’s what I was thinking.”
His eyes, though. His eyes were still those of the ten year old boy in his story. She couldn’t look away from them.
He took her hand between his.
She felt herself leaning toward him, like she was falling – falling in slow motion, and then the ground rushed up to meet her and she closed her eyes and let herself crash into him.
She was completely lost.
Now Luis was reading, “what we did had a con... se… cra… tion… of its own. We...”
She didn’t even know what page she was supposed to be on.
She felt caged.
“Someone will tell,” she texted back.
God! Why didn’t Schwartz just take her phone away and put her out of her misery? Why couldn’t Mark just leave her alone? Why couldn’t they both just act like it didn’t happen?
Her phone vibrated.
“I don’t care,” was his reply.
But it did happen.
And he was right outside.
Her hand shot up in the air.
“May I please take the hall pass to go to the restroom?”
Originally Published in Notes Magazine Issue #6: Grace Notes Publishing. 2013