Free Short: Evie
Today’s story is a donation from Ramona DeFelice Long. This is a delightful, funny piece. Visit Ramona at www.Ramonadef.wordpress.com
When my sister Evie finally left home, I was so glad. All last school year, it was nothing but drama drama drama. First, drama over Evie cutting school, and Evie’s new friends, and Evie’s skanky clothes, and Evie never wanting to do anything with the family. Then the drama changed to Evie having no friends, and Evie not going anywhere but school, and Evie never wanting to do anything with anyone, friends or family. It was so boring.
If I had to choose, I’d pick the first drama. At least then she wasn’t bugging me all the time. In a normal family, it’s the younger sister who annoys the older one, but not at our house. No, after Evie’s big meltdown, she got extra weird. Like, she’d come to my room as if she wanted to talk, but she wouldn’t say anything. She’d just stand in the doorway until I couldn’t bear it anymore and I’d say, “What?!”
And then she’d come in. Like “What?!”is an invitation that really means, oh please, enter at your convenience, and by all means, help yourself to touching my stuff.
This would not have happened if I had a lock on my bedroom door, but my mom says locks cut people off from the rest of the world, and ours is not that kind of home. Like we are some storybook family that always gets along. Or, ever gets along. News flash about that one: The only story our family could tell is a fractured fairy tale.
My mom was working then, so I joined a bunch of after-school clubs to avoid any intimate afternoons with Big Sister. When the new friends phase was going full throttle, Evie would invite kids over (not allowed, of course) and they’d go in the basement and…I don’t know what they did. I didn’t want to know then and I don’t want to know now. I kept my mouth shut about the sounds and the smells because she might be a freak and a pain, but what fifteen year old rats out her older sister unless she absolutely must?
But then The Meltdown happened and all the new friends disappeared. My mom started “encouraging” me to go home right after school. Meaning, I was paid to babysit my older sister.
As soon as I’d enter Casa de Crazy, there was Evie, at my door. Her favorite thing was to go to my clutter shelf and pick up something and examine it like it was a fascinating, billion-year-old fossil instead of the troll doll my friend Zena gave me when I got scared on a Girl Scout camping trip. That’s the kind of stuff on my shelf: troll dolls and key chains and a pair of moccasins I made in summer crafts that would only fit a person with two left feet; a Jacob’s ladder my fifth grade boyfriend gave me; Evil Eye bracelets from the Greek festival; some arrowheads we “found” in a creek but I know my dad really planted them; a twig that looks like a human finger; a fake ruby ring that I won at the third grade Fun Fair. Junk like that. Junk that a normal teenager collects for no good reason.
I keep mine on what I called my clutter shelf, even though that’s a total misnomer. It’s not cluttered at all. I dust it once a week so I can pick up each junky thing and remember the fun time I had getting it.
This is not anything profound. But it’s my stuff and I think people should respect other people’s clutter or whatever they want to call it, and that means not come in and manhandle it like you have that right.
But Evie did that. At first I complained to Mom, which was a big mistake because I got the lecture about my sister and her “difficulty.” Please.
So I told my mom, “Evie doesn’t have a difficulty, Evie is a difficulty.”
I guess it’s true what they say, the truth hurts. I could tell it hurt my mom, so I backed off. Evie never did any actual damage, if you don’t count invading my personal space. It was easier to let her come in and do her thing, so I tried to ignore her and pretend her unwanted touching didn’t bother me. Every time it happened, I hoped she’d do her thing as quickly as possible and it would be over with.
She left with a couple of guys we met at the State Fair. I say “we” because the parents decided last summer that Evie and I should have a more “sister-friendly” relationship. I told them that “sister-friendly” was an oxymoron, which got me the talk from Dad about the difference between being smart and being a smartass. But Mom was in one of her Family Love moods, and that is just one more thing I have learned to put up with until it goes away.
The State Fair happened because Evie asked if she could take the car out, and she’d bring me if that made Mom feel better. And Mom was thrilled at this proposition. So I agreed, because being with Evie at the stupid State Fair was a lot less horrifying than watching my mother make a fool out of herself in her quest for the perfect family.
So, we went. It was July, and it felt like a thousand degrees outside. The Fair was gross. Everybody was sweating, and the gross, sweating people were walking around eating gross fried food. I did not want to touch one single thing or person. Ten feet past the entrance gate, I wanted to slap on a Hazmat suit or take a long hot shower in Purell.
Evie liked it. When I complained about the heat, she took out the twenty Mom had given her and bought me a snow cone. Cherry. Sucking up that syrup was like mainlining white sugar but I was hot beyond caring. At least my tongue was cool.
And then she had her brilliant idea. She stopped in the middle of the crush of sweaty grossness, pointed skyward, and said, “Let’s go on the Ferris Wheel.”
I was like, “no way.” She started walking toward it, and I was forced to follow her, because I did not want to get separated and be forced to search for her. Plus, she was my ride and the only thing conceivably more humiliating than riding the Ferris Wheel at the State Fair was being left behind without a ride home from the State Fair. She got in line, and I said, “Which part of ‘no way’ do you not understand?”
And this guy in line behind me laughed. Evie and I both turned around. The guy who laughed had a friend, and the friend said, “So, girls, are you going up on the Ferris Wheel or not?”
Is that a funny question? No, it is not even remotely a funny question, but Evie giggled like it was hilarious.
And she said, “Yes,” at the exact same time I said, “No,” and the two guys seemed to find that hilarious, too. Evie giggled again, and for one brief moment, I thought about my mom and how the sight of Evie laughing, even over something this lame, would please her. But I couldn’t bring myself to even chuckle, so I took a huge bite of my snow cone, and of course I choked, and Evie and the two guys pounded me on the back until I could breathe again.
Their names were Chris and Donovan. They were older, but not icky old. Maybe early twenties. They wore normal t-shirts and normal shorts and baseball caps, which is kind of country, but at least they didn’t wear them sideways like faux hoodsters. They were just guys. That’s all. A couple of guys. I told that to Mom and Dad and the police a hundred million times. There wasn’t one weird thing about Chris or Donovan, not anything weirder than any other guy on the planet, so that’s why, when I quit choking and could talk again, I told Evie, “If you want to ride the Ferris Wheel so bad, go with them.”
So she did. I got out of line and they bought tickets. When they got close to the front, Chris cupped his hands and yelled at me, “Last chance to change your mind!”
I pointed at the sign that said NO FOOD ON RIDES and he shrugged, and I was never so grateful for a snow cone in my life.
They went up and I stayed down. Evie sat in the middle. When they reached the tip top, Donovan leaned over to say something, and then they did the Wave to me, which was so goofy and unexpected that that I cracked up. On the second time around, they did it again, and it was even funnier. I could see Evie grinning, and I was almost sorry when the paper cone in my hand began to turn into mush and I had to go off and find a trash can. When I got back, the ride was over, and Evie and Chris and Donovan hopped out of the car and walked together toward me, her arms hooked into theirs. And it looked so normal and innocent that when she said, “We’re gonna hang with them for a while, all right?”I said it was fine. Chris asked our ages. Evie said eighteen, which was a stretch but it wasn’t a big whup. I told the truth, fifteen last April, and after that they called me Little Sis. We didn’t go near any more rides, but they bought us cotton candy and nachos and soda. We had money, but Chris said, our treat, so we let them. It was all okay. Really.
When it was time to go, they asked for Evie’s cell number so they could call us if we ever wanted another glorious day at the State Fair. Like that would ever happen. But Evie told them, the truth this time. They walked us to our car and gave us hugs. Just, hugs. And then they turned back toward the Fair, where the Ferris Wheel rose against the backdrop of the setting sun, like a final stroke to show how hokey it all was.
We drove back home and didn’t talk, just like we never talk, but we listened to the radio and for once I wasn’t completely annoyed by her presence. When we got home, Mom was in the kitchen, pretending she wasn’t watching for us, but she couldn’t hide that pathetically hopeful look on her face when we walked in and she asked, “How was it?”
We both said okay.
Mom’s eyebrows hit the roof, and she said, “Really?”And the look changed from pathetically hopeful to pathetically happy, and that so surpassed my tolerance of all things loving and parental that I had to leave—I mean, I actually had to flee the room–before I barfed outright.
But the next day, Evie of old was back, standing at my bedroom door, coming in uninvited, fondling my clutter. On the ride home from the Fair, in a moment of insanity, I’d wished I had saved the snow cone cone, so I could add it to my shelf. But like I said, it was just a brief moment, and it was insane, and so was she. More so every day, if you must know the truth.
School started, and two weeks into it, Evie left. She wrote a note and propped it up on the fireplace mantle: Going away for a while, with some friends. No big. E.
The note was wrong. It was a big. I got interrogated like I had written the note myself, or that I knew anything like who-what-when-where-why about it. I didn’t know squat, so I said,
“Why do you keep asking me stuff? I didn’t even talk to her, unless I had no alternative.”
My dad looked ready to launch into the don’t-be-a-smartass talk again, but Mom said, “But you were getting close again! You had such a good time at the Fair.”
How she made the leap from “okay” to “such a good time” is beyond me, but she was crazy upset over the note, so I left them alone and stayed in my room and enjoyed the Evie-freedom while the mother of all family dramas played itself out.
I said I knew nothing, but it turned out I was wrong. I wasn’t lying, I just didn’t know I knew what I knew. Some girl at school came forward and told the police she heard Evie say she was hitching a ride to Florida with a couple of guys she’d met at the State Fair. Evie had been gone a week by then and my mom’s level of freaked out was beyond anything I had ever seen. So, I narced out Chris and Donovan. I didn’t do it in an ill-will kind of way, but the parents seemed a tiny bit less stressed when I “decided to cooperate.” An announcement that was news to me, since I had never decided not to cooperate.
I spilled everything I could remember. A police officer came over with a yearbook from a high school in the next county. It was a few years old, but it was definitely Chris and Donovan, rocking the graduation robes. The officer said he used the yearbook photos because the guys had no arrest records, had never been in trouble, not even speeding tickets. This was the good news, and I felt vindicated.
But the bad news was, Chris and Donovan had been talking to their friends about this cross-country driving trip they were going to go on. The friends thought it was all BS, but it looked like they’d up and done it. My dad got mildly crazed by this, and he said, “A cross country driving trip? Who does this kind of thing?”
And so I tried to be helpful, even though I didn’t in my wildest dreams think Chris or Donovan were huge fans of Kerouac, and I said, “Hey, Dad, maybe they’re doing an On The Road tribute.”
The officer wanted to know what that meant, so I explained. Then I tried to make my mom feel better and said this proved that Evie had left of her own free will, so maybe we should All. Just. Chill.
Which did not go over well and pretty much destroyed any points I had earned by deciding to cooperate.
At school, the girl who came forward blabbed like a blowfish. On Monday, the gossip was that Evie had left with two guys. By Friday, it had escalated to half a soccer team, escaped cons, tweaks, a creep from Craigslist and, finally, a married man who’d fathered my future niece or nephew. Crazy shit. Teenagers are so dramatic.
The first day, I told a couple of friends what had really happened, but at lunch, our table was overrun with the high school version of Gawker, and I did not appreciate it. I am not thick. I don’t need a runaway sister to get some fleeting popularity, so in the middle of the questioning, I picked up my tray and said, “I am not talking about Evie anymore.”
I meant it. I did not say another word about her or what some people insisted on calling her “disappearance”.
She was gone three and a half weeks. One night, late, we got a call from a waitress in Florida. My dad answered, and I just happened to be going down the hall when the phone rang. Mom was there, too. Dad said, “Yes, it is. Who is this?”
He listened and then his face did this really weird thing. It went slack and all the skin drooped like it was melting. It’s what I imagine happens when somebody gets scalped; their whole face slides down because there is nothing holding it from the top. Of course my dad wasn’t scalped, but he closed his eyes for a second and I had never seen him do that before, and I felt like I had been scalped, though not across the head, but in my chest.
My mom grabbed my arm above the elbow. Dad started saying things like,
“How did you get our number?”
“When was this?”
“How did she look?”
Every time he spoke, my mom’s grip on me got tighter until her hand was like a tourniquet, and when she finally let go, I was surprised my arm didn’t drop off and hit the floor. Finally, Dad pointed to Mom and said, “Write this down.”
He said an address and a couple of phone numbers. My mom wrote them and then Dad was saying, “Thank you, thank you so much,” about 6,000 times. He hung up and my mom said, “Who was that? Did someone find her?”
Dad was already dialing somebody else, the police I thought, but he was calling my Uncle Tony. While he dialed, he said yes, someone had seen Evie, but Mom had to get online and book him a flight to Fort Lauderdale right now, and then Uncle Tony answered and Dad said he needed a ride to the airport right now and then he hung up and opened the hall closet and pulled out a knapsack that was already packed. He yelled at my mom to book him a rental car, too, and she yelled back okay. I halfway expected her to say, “Yes, sir!” because my dad was acting like an army general snapping out orders instead of the mild-mannered orthodontist he really was. And within minutes, my mom was yelling back that she got a flight booked and she’ll text him with the rental car info and all this happened at warp speed, and Dad said he’s going to wait out on the porch so Tony doesn’t have to get of the car, and my mom ran out and handed him a paper with his flight info on it, and she hugged him and they went to the door.
As he opened it, Dad turned back to me, and I expected him to tell me to do something right now, but instead he said, “Stay here with your mother. Don’t go to school tomorrow.”
This was my dad. It was totally ninja.
The caller was a waitress at an all night diner. Chris and Donovan and Evie had gone there and the guys had ordered beer. The waitress said they were perfectly polite, but there was something hinky about Evie. That’s the word she used. Hinky. Like, Evie wouldn’t make eye contact and she hardly spoke and she just seemed off. The waitress had once dated a cop, and he’d told her that if something seems wrong, it probably is wrong.
She carded the guys, but even though Evie had only ordered a soda, she said she had to card her, too, since she’d be sitting at a table where alcohol was consumed and you had to be eighteen to do that after 11 p.m. in Florida. I laughed out loud when Dad said this, because even I could tell it was complete bullshit, but the genius trio fell for it. And the waitress said she looked real hard at Evie’s name and our address, and she wrote it on a napkin as soon as they weren’t looking. She told my dad she could lose her job for doing that, but she had a daughter, too. After her shift, she People Searched us at her house and made the call. And that’s why Dad thanked her the 6,000 times.
On the way to the airport, Dad contacted the Fort Lauderdale police. They tracked down Chris’ car and found them all in some hotel. Evie was fine. And because she actually was eighteen by this time, and the guys were over twenty-one, and she had gone willingly, and they hadn’t committed any crimes or broken any laws, the whole drama just burst like a big balloon of hot air. Whoosh. All gone except for some tiny broken pieces that scattered everywhere.
So she’s home now, packing some new weirdness. There was a furor at school about her return, even more tiresome than the first time. Everybody kept asking me how she was and where she’d been, like it was their business, my business, anybody and everybody’s business. Just like before, I got sick of it in no time. So, I went right back to my line, “I am not talking about Evie anymore.”
And that worked really well, although it helped that about four seconds after I said it, a fight broke out at another table. Somebody had reached across and knocked over somebody else’s Gatorade. In high school, that’s all it takes for something to descend into violence. Invade a person’s personal space or mess with their stuff, and you are just asking for it.
Evie didn’t go back to school. Mom quit her job and worked out a homeschooling deal with the school district. Evie got tons of attention. She sees a counselor every Tuesday morning now, and God knows what she says to him or her, because she’s been practically mute since she got back. Not that I mind, since we were never dueling conversationalists, but my mom keeps trying. And when she tries to engage Evie into answering deep, meaningful questions like,
“What do you think about going shopping for new jeans tomorrow?” and Evie just shrugs an answer, Mom is satisfied. Or, worse, she pats Evie’s hand says, “Just give it time.”
That’s pretty much the extent of the new weirdness. The old weirdness is the same. Like, the first few days, Evie did not come anywhere near my room, and I thought, Hurrah! The visitations are over. But today, she appeared at my door. I was on my bed, reading, and she just stood there like back during the not-so-good old days.
So I said, “What?”
I said it like that, instead of my usual, “What?!”but it had the same effect because she came in. She walked to my clutter shelf, but she didn’t touch anything. She just stood there. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I did the physical version of “What?!” and went to stand next to her. And she still didn’t speak, so I broke down and said, “So, um, Donovan and Chris. They were okay to travel with?”
Stupid, I know. Like driving to Florida is some epic road trip. But I could not think of anything else to say, and then Evie did a strange thing. Or, rather, her face did. It got the same melty, scalped look like my dad’s had the night the waitress called.
And Evie said, “They made me do things.”
That’s all. Just that.
We stood side by side until she raised her hand and pointed at my shelf, and she said, “This is dusty.”
Which it was, because I hadn’t dusted or touched the shelf the whole time she was gone. So I went out to the hall closet and got two dust cloths and bottle of cleaner. She picked up each of my clutters and wiped them down while I sprayed the shelf and swiped the dust cloth over it.
It only took a couple of minutes, but the silence was seriously nerve-racking, so I started telling her what each thing was and how I’d gotten it and why I kept it. She just listened. And in no time, my clutter shelf was back to normal, like it had been before she left, all of my stuff clean and shiny and set down carefully in its own particular space. When we were finished cleaning, Evie took a step backward and I did, too, and we stood shoulder to shoulder, checking out my bright shining collection. And I thought about the snow cone cone. I was glad now I hadn’t kept it, so I wouldn’t have to look at it or think about how I got it, and so we could pretend the mess I’d let happen the last couple of weeks could just be dusted off and wiped clean and put up on a shelf.
Ramona DeFelice Long works as an author and professional editor. As an author, her writing has appeared in literary, regional, and juvenile publications. She has received awards and fellowships from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Delaware Division of the Arts, the Pennsylvania State Arts Council, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. A native of Louisiana, she currently lives in Delaware and is active in the Delmarva and Pennsylvania arts communities.