A Secret Malice

Chapter 1

I could see Evan, sitting across the aisle from me, out of the corner of my eye.  I thought maybe he was looking at me too, but that could have been my imagination. I walked into school right behind him and almost said hi. Didn’t, but almost. We were both at the bookstore yesterday, too. I, brave soul that I am, hid behind a display of magic wands and spent fifteen minutes maneuvering myself to “run into” him, only to miss him when he walked out the door with a coffee.

Florescent light glittered in his hair. Really, glittered. It caught in subtle, blue wisps of his auburny, golden hair. It shimmered in the clear ends of his eyelashes, and highlighted the curve of his nose. I had given up on the corner of my eye and used my whole eye, both of them, to stare.

Perfection.

He coughed and turned in my direction.

Caught. I coughed too, and looked at my shoe.

He laughed, a quiet, subtle sound and I looked up to join the joke, but too late. He was laughing with someone else who had arrived in the aisle between our desks.

“Dude, you are such a dick.” Evan’s voice rushed out as the bell rang, signaling the end of English.

Brad Johnson let out a loud bark of laughter and sat hard on Evan’s desk, sliding across the surface, and shoving Evan out of the chair. “I’m not a dick,” said Brad, who could definitely be a dick. He propelled forward, out of control, over the desk and caught his foot under my chair to keep from falling. My desk jumped several inches closer to Evan’s, groaning against Brad’s weight. It just kept him from tumbling over and nearly pulled me to the floor.

“Oops, sorry, Liv,” Brad said while making a poor attempt to stifle another laugh.

“Sure you are.” I gripped the edges of my desk to steady it and wondered how he managed to get my purse strap wrapped around his ankle. My desk was so close, Brad’s knees pressed against the edge, trapping me.

Evan smacked him on the top of the head. “I told you that you were a dick. Let her out. She has to get all the way to bio from here.”

“Thanks,” I said, startled he knew my schedule.

“No problem. See ya’ Liv.” Evan flashed me a quick smile and grabbed his backpack from the floor.

Brad untangled his foot from my purse and slipped out between the desks, following Evan. “I can’t believe you know her schedule,” he said, glancing back at me with a smirk.

Evan ignored him and headed out of the classroom, cutting a path into the group of students piling out into the hall.

Brad caught up to him and tried to trip him from behind. Evan jumped over Brad’s foot and disappeared into the massing crowd without missing a step.

I moved into the hall and watched as they disappeared down a side corridor.

A small, compulsive part of me wanted to follow them, but I shook it off and headed to biology, smiling at the idea that Evan knew my schedule.

I was supposed to drop the school newspaper zip drive in the office before third. I purposely put it in my pocket because it was jabby and miserable. The fact I didn’t realize it was still there until it had formed a permanent dent in my thigh that would probably require reconstructive surgery was a statement to my preoccupation. At lunch, I looked for Evan, hoping maybe I could come up with some excuse to strike up a conversation, you know, about tofu or something, but no such luck. I caught sight of the top of his head at the very end of the day as I closed my locker, but that was as close as I got.

Resigned to waiting until the next day in English to ogle and promising myself I would actually say something to him when I had the chance, I headed through the wide-open doors and down the old concrete steps into the parking lot. A frigid wind caressed my skin like a slap and I shuddered. Most of October had blessed us with warm Indian summer days but this arctic breeze told the truth—winter waited just around the corner. I was so busy feeling annoyed about runny noses and ice that I didn’t notice Evan until I heard his laughter.

He leaned against a big, gray truck with a bunch of junior and senior guys at the front of the lot.  He caught my eye and waved, just a little jerk of his hand. I waved back—nervous—it would be my luck that one of his friends was walking right behind me. My resolve to speak to him evaporated immediately and I ducked my head, making a beeline for my car a couple of parking spots away from the truck.

Brad Johnson’s eyes followed me like laser beams. He laughed and shoved Evan. Evan pressed his hands deep into his pockets and looked at the ground. The lines of his dimples showed when he smiled and his teeth caught the pale November sunlight. I fumbled for my keys and hurried past, wishing I had even a tiny capacity to stop and talk to him.

As I reached my car a few rows away, Haley Nichols yelled my name. Startled, I dropped my books. I didn’t really drop them, I sort of threw them and they hit the ground with a thud.

The subtle, teasing laughter that started when Evan waved at me got louder. I searched the ground for a trap door.

Haley, oblivious to my embarrassment, yelled, “Smooth move,” as she reached her car, smack in the middle of the cars between the guy encrusted gray truck and me.

I opened the door of my car, grabbed my books off the ground, and tossed them into the back seat.

“Can you meet me at the library at four?” she called.

I tucked my hair behind my ear, hyperaware of the too many eyes on me. “Yeah.”

“Evan wants to go too,” someone yelled from the gray truck.

Haley turned to look at the guys shoving each other playfully and back at me. She raised an eyebrow “You can meet us at the library, too, Evan. Of course.”

Evan turned the color of a pomegranate. He shrugged. “Sorry. I can’t. Practice.” His eyes flicked to me. The color faded from his cheeks and he smiled a huge, warm smile. “Maybe on Saturday.”

Now it was me turning deep red.  “Sure.” I think I said sure. My keys cut into my hand and I smiled at Evan across the small sea of cars.

“Cool,” he said, grinning.

My insides danced. Maybe they writhed. They did something I didn’t recognize.

“Come on, stud. We’re going to be late.” Brad grabbed Evan’s arm and yanked.

Evan shoved him back and a whistle blew somewhere near the locker rooms. The boys took off running.

I had so much homework, I drove straight to the library instead of going home. It took forever to wrangle the mess I had made of my books into a collection I could lug inside and I was glad to find a small table far away from the noise of the kid’s section. I went straight to work reading Siddhartha.  At least I tried to. I’d reread the same page four times and still had no idea what it said.

Haley’s books landed next to me. “Reyna’s with me,” she whispered.

I didn’t see Reyna.

Haley shook her head. “She had to return a book.”

I scowled.

“Don’t give me that face. She saw me pulling out of my driveway and you know how my mom is about being rude to a neighbor. Tell me quick before she gets here. Do you like him?”

“Haley, I can’t even say my name around him. I’m behind in English because all I do is stare at him.”

She grinned. “I knew it. Gees. Evan Wilson, that’s like… like I don’t even know. And he’s not even hitting on you at some drunken brawl of a party. He’s actually asking you out.”

“He hasn’t asked me out.”

“Um…. I beg to differ. I think he asked you to meet him at the library on Saturday.”

Reyna rounded the corner, heading in our direction.

“I’m not talking about this in front of Reyna,” I muttered in a low voice.

“God no,” Haley whispered. “Reyna has a huge mouth. She annoys the hell out of me. If we went to the same school, I’d have to move.” Sitting heavily in the chair next to mine, she said, “Have you finished your vocabulary?” Her clear voice carried across the library, raising the eyebrows of the librarian shelving books and putting an end to our Evan-centered conversation.

At least with Haley and Reyna there, I actually read Siddhartha and I went home at seven feeling like I accomplished something. My mother ran through the usual litany of school related questions at dinner and let me off the hook for loading the dishwasher when I told her I still had vocabulary to finish.

“When is it due?” She asked, lifting her plate from the table and carrying it to the sink.

“Tomorrow.”

She glowered. “It’s nearly eight. When was it assigned?”

I grinned at her and carried my plate to the sink too. “Why do you ask questions you don’t really want me to answer?”

“Let me guess, two weeks ago.”

“I’m not that bad, only a week.”

“You spent the weekend goofing off with Haley. You should have—”

“Teenager…” I gestured to myself.

“Fine, go. Don’t be up too late.”

Rolling my eyes, I headed to my room, wishing it was the weekend.

Writing definitions on index cards took forever, mostly because every time I used my phone to look up a definition, I texted Haley and checked some social media account or another. It was also a problem that my desk sat right in front of a window facing the woods and the moonrise turned the trees to towering, gilt skeletons—a dreamscape much more interesting than any word on my vocabulary list. I had deluded myself into thinking I’d be done in an hour. Instead, it was almost midnight before I turned off the light.

The echoing sound of a shotgun blast right outside my window startled me awake. The sound of the small explosion reverberated through the glass panes and was followed by my father charging down the hall.

“Stay down, Olivia,” he barked. “That was damn close to the house. Effing hunters, screwing around in the middle of the night.”

My mother followed him, her phone at her ear, the voice of a nine-one-one dispatcher echoing after her. We bumped into each other running down the stairs. My father, always the doctor, bolted out the front door toward the shotgun blast. His untied tennis shoes cracked the thin layer of frost that covered the porch and crushed dead leaves strewn across the path. My mother closed the door behind him.

He didn’t come back right away and sirens screamed through the night. From somewhere nearby a man yelled. An anguished, horrible sound. People—firemen, EMT’s, police officers—filled our driveway and ran down the path to the woods behind our house. Red and blue lights flashed on the walls, filling the room with color and reflecting in the mirror over the fireplace. My mother watched from the kitchen window and told me to stay back.

I sat at the table and waited, warming my hands on a full cup of tea I couldn’t bring myself to drink. She gasped and closed the blinds.

“What?”  I said, standing.

“A body.”

“Oh.” I sat back down.

After the last of the emergency vehicles pulled out of our driveway, my father came in the front door. He had an expression on his face I had only seen a few times after horrifying days at the hospital.  He looked ashen and his clothes were caked with mud and blood.

“Who?” I said. “Who?”

“I don’t know. One of the EMT’s said he went to your school. Evan…Evan something.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements