The unthinkable nightmare of that morning was merciless to Eva. She repeatedly pictured her parents smiling, laughing, hugging her, joking with one another, and her eyes spontaneously welled up with tears that blurred her vision and streamed down her face when she curled up in the corner of her room, hugging her knees to her chin. She accepted the unremitting cramps in her stomach as righteous punishment for childhood misdeeds long-forgotten.
For months Eva’s guilt rubbed as raw as the night of the accident itself. Depression and self-loathing lodged intractably in the middle of her chest. Eva’s mother had invited her to join them at the party the night of the accident, but Eva had begged her mother to let her stay with Aunt Loretta instead. Aunt Loretta was “fun,” and Eva dreaded those adult holiday parties. Most of the other parents did not bring their children, and the adult conversation was beyond boring. Eva especially hated the way her father’s boss, Mr. Henderson, always fussed over her and complimented her on what a “beautiful girl” she was. “A gorgeous little woman already,” he would say. The rapt, calculated expression on his face made Eva feel vulgar.
Of course, now she wished she had gone with her parents to the party. Now she wished with all her heart that she had been killed along with them and gone into heaven with them. She decided that God must be uncaring, unjust, and heartless to take them without taking her, and she vowed she would never enter a church or pray again.
Eva’s aunt Loretta was exactly ten years older than Eva—in fact, they shared the same birthday, September 1. Loretta was Eva’s only living relative so, naturally, she assumed custody of Eva and her affairs. Mr. Fromm, an attorney from the bank, helped them settle the estate. After the home was sold and the debts and burial costs and attorney fees were all paid, Eva was left with $43,532.87 in a trust fund to be managed by her aunt Loretta.
Eva refused to return to her former school, St. Rita’s, because it was a religious institution and she hated God for killing her parents. Aunt Loretta enrolled her in the local public school, General Grant Junior High School, for the last five months of the school year. Eva had been a popular girl and an A student at St. Rita’s; at General Grant’s she was sullen, uncooperative, truant, and by the end of May suspended from school for fighting in the girls’ bathroom. The school year ended and Eva received an eighth grade diploma only because school policy prohibited retention.
Eva drifted through the first summer without her parents like a solitary wanderer in a perpetual fog. She stayed up late at night staring at the television and, after Aunt Loretta went to bed, smoking her cigarettes. Eventually, Eva began taking cans of beer from the refrigerator and sleeping until at least noon the following day. Aunt Loretta lost her job as a receptionist at a car dealership and her friend, Mike, a licensed plumber, moved in with them to help pay the bills.
In late August, one week before the new school year started, Aunt Loretta poured milk over the cold cereal in both of their bowls, sat across from Eva and said, “I have something to tell you.”
“Are you going to marry Mike?” Eva guessed.
“No,” she shook her head regretfully, “but I would.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m pregnant,” she said, reaching for a cigarette from the pack lying on the table. “Want one?”
Eva momentarily shifted uncomfortably in her chair wondering how long Aunt Loretta had known she smoked. “Sure, thanks,” she said, shrugging.
Loretta lit both their cigarettes and inhaled hers deeply. Gently blowing out a long stream of white smoke, she said, “He doesn’t want to get married.”
“Why not?” Eva demanded.
“That’s men, honey.” Loretta shook her head distastefully. “Says he wants his freedom, he doesn’t want to be tied down. Maybe it’s me; he just doesn’t want to marry me. I don’t know.”
The following week Eva and Loretta celebrated their mutual birthday with beer and grilled cheese sandwiches. Mike moved out and Eva started her first year of high school at McKinley Senior High. Aunt Loretta explained to Eva that she was going to have to use some of the trust money for them to live on until she could find a job.
“I don’t care,” Eva said listlessly. The stabbing pain of her parents’ death had ebbed into an aching numbness, and the money seemed like an undesirable remnant of the tragedy. Eva began attending school more regularly, but that was primarily because of Mr. Harrison, her freshman English teacher.
Mr. Harrison was young and handsome with piercing blue eyes, longish blonde hair, and slightly darker sideburns and mustache. Eva enjoyed the way he strolled up and down the aisles when he lectured, and he often tapped briefly on Eva’s desk with his index finger when he passed her assigned seat. She noticed that his fingernail was beautifully manicured, and she began taking better care of her own nails. Since Freshman English was her first class of the day, Eva returned to her prior habit of being on time for school.
Everyone except Jessica Booker ignored Eva, which suited Eva just fine. The other girls all knew one another and Eva was an outsider and a threat. The girls gossiped and giggled and ogled boys who mostly disregarded them while stealing glances or outright staring at Eva as often as possible. Eva delighted in ignoring them all. The girls were “bitches” and the boys were “children.”
At lunch Eva sat alone when Jessica was serving lunch-time detention, which was often. Otherwise they sat together looking as different as a unicorn from an owl: Eva with her long blond hair, a penetrating gaze, brown eyes soft and round as a doe’s, and shapely figure; Jessica with her short cropped brown mop of hair, square-eyed glasses, and plump, round shape.
“Here comes Shiffer Brains,” said Jessica, rolling her eyes.
“Who?” laughed Eva.
“You know,” Jessica said, “shit-for-brains Sandra.”
Sandra Shiffer, brown-haired, tall, slim, athletic looking, conveyed an air of obvious affluence and superiority.
“Just ignore her,” Eva said, taking an orange from her lunch bag.
“No detention today, Jessica?” said Sandra Shiffer feigning surprise. “What’s wrong? Did your fat butt break the chair in the detention hall?”
“Fuck you,” said Jessica not bothering to look up.
“My, my, such profanity,” she said. “I hope that language doesn’t get you another detention. I just hate it when little Miss Eva Lange has to sit all by her lonesome over here because none of the rest of us want to have anything to do with her.”
Eva chuckled. “You think I care?” she said. “I’d rather sit in a nest of rattlesnakes than with you bitches.”
“Hmm,” said Sandra Shiffer, rubbing her hands together as if warming them, “maybe we can arrange that for you.” She smirked, turned, and sauntered away.
“God, I hate her,” said Jessica. “We used to be friends until this year. She got with those new snooty friends of hers and just shut me out. I don’t know why. I didn’t do anything to her.” Jessica’s face was taut with hurt.
“You want me to punish her for you?” asked Eva, a wily smirk teasing her lips.
“Sure! How?” Jessica leaned forward, intrigued.
Eva shrugged. “I could steal her boyfriend from her,” she said matter-of-factly, “if he’s not so much of a jerk that he makes me gag.”
Jessica laughed loud enough for half of the lunchroom to turn in their direction.
“Shhh,” said Eva, suppressing her own giggles, “don’t give it away you ninny. Who is he anyway?”
“Nick Shelton,” said Jessica enthusiastically. “He is kind of a jerk. He’s conceited, but he looks like Rock Hudson.”
Eva gazed around the lunchroom. “Is he here?”
“No,” he’s a junior. He eats next lunch period … I think.” She checked the inside of her folder for the school’s bell schedule.
“That’s alright,” said Eva, tapping Jessica’s arm, “Never mind. I’ll find Mr. Nick Shelton who looks like Rock Hudson.” Lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, Eva said, “Or, actually, he’ll find me.”
Eva spotted her quarry the next day. Sandra was in Eva’s English class and Eva noticed the boy who escorted Shiffer to the classroom door. He pecked her on the cheek, after checking that no one was watching, and headed for his own class somewhere down the hall. Eva was not impressed. The boy looked more like Sal Mineo than Rock Hudson as far as she was concerned.
The following morning Eva intentionally lingered outside the school’s main entrance and stared at Nick Shelton from across the courtyard. Sitting on the steps munching an apple, Eva observed while he stood with Sandra and her friends talking about whatever teenage boys trying to sound important talked about. Eva spotted the exact moment he noticed her staring at him.
He went completely still, his jaw dropped open a fraction, and his eyes widened with the same erotic desire Eva observed on virtually every boy’s face the first time they looked at her. To hold his gaze long enough for Sandra to notice them appraising each other, Eva smiled at him ever so slightly. When she was certain that Sandra had “caught” them, Eva stood up, threw the rest of her apple in the trash can, and strolled coolly up the stairs and into the building.
Eva sat alone at lunch since Jessica was serving another detention. Sandra Shiffer marched to her table.
“Just what do you think you’re doing,” demanded Sandra, placing her palms down on the lunch table and leaning forward.
Eva gave her a blank stare and said nothing.
“Are you trying to steal my boyfriend?” snapped Sandra.
“Why would I want him?” Eva pulled an orange from her lunch bag and began peeling it.
Sandra sneered. “You better stay away from him, that’s all.”
“Or what?” said Eva.
“Or …” Sandra stumbled, “or … you’ll regret it. I can promise you that!” She stuck her chin forward and her eyes were slits.
“I would regret having a boyfriend like that,” said Eva. “I don’t want him.”
Sandra stood straight. “Just make sure you don’t . . .”
“But I might take him away from you anyway,” Eva interrupted her.
“What?” Sandra said. Confusion spread quickly across her face.
“And you know I could do it too,” said Eva, smiling.
Sandra tensed and glanced around, as if wondering if anyone was overhearing their conversation.
“Look,” said Eva, continuing to peel her orange, “I’ll stay miles away from your boyfriend on two conditions.”
“Conditions? What are you talking about? Who do you think you are anyway?”
“First,” said Eva, breaking the orange into quarters, “you stop teasing Jessica, you stop calling her names, you stop making fun of her.” Eva gazed at Sandra who was listening closely. “Second,” she went on, “you include Jessica with you and your group sometimes. You used to be friends, right?” Eva popped a section of orange into her mouth and waited for Sandra’s reply.
“That’s it? That’s what you want?” Sandra said tentatively.
“That’s it,” Eva nodded. “Leave Jessica alone and I’ll leave your boyfriend alone. You two can live happily ever after until doomsday as far as I’m concerned.” Eva took another orange quarter and popped it in her mouth.
Sandra regarded Eva suspiciously. “Why do you care what happens to Booker?”
“My business,” said Eva. “Is it a deal?”
Sandra Shiffer, hesitated, acquiesced with an off-the-cuff shrug, and, in the same motion, spun and walked away. Halting once, she turned as if to say something, changed her mind, and continued on. Eva tore free another orange quarter, squirted the juice into her mouth, and smiled.