Thursday September 11th 2003
It was the first few weeks of September, two weeks before I began school, when my house got a late phone call one night. I could hear my father answer it downstairs as I prepared for bed, and his low voice as he talked slowly. I knew that voice. Something bad had happened, and endless possibilities ran through my head.
When he called for me, I ran to the top of the stairs, seeing him by the hall table, the old wire phone in his hand.
"It's Evelyn. She won't come out of her room. Her grandparents didn't know who to call."
The possibilities stopped. I stood still as my father gazed at me, and then my mother walked down the hall to ask him what was going on. I could barely hear them as I walked down the stairs, slipping my sneakers on swiftly and walking to the door. Everything felt strangely motionless, not entirely real. I didn't know what was going on, but Evelyn was involved. And all that went through me were her eyes when they looked to me as she sat on that bench in the graveyard.
Distant. She was so far away that it made my heart lurch into action and make me stumble out of the house.
My dad got to the car before I did. I numbly pulled open the door as he started the ignition. I let a breath out as we drove away into the deadly still night, the tarmac hungering under the car's old wheels, the emotions inside of me rolling like fog over the sea.
When we finally got there, I looked to my father, who nodded silently at me.
"You… stay for as long as you need to. I'll come back if you want to come home." He told me calmly, in the same low and steady voice as before.
"Thank you." I said in the most unmanly whisper ever. He smiled, reaching over me to open my door.
"See you soon, son."
"Bye dad." I climbed out, shutting the door behind me and making my way to the gate before the Hund household. The downstairs lights were on, set dimly. I waved to my dad as he drove away, and then fearfully knocked on the door.
"Seth, you came!" Mrs Hund hugged me like she had never done before, and I knew that embrace. It was a sign of desperation, that I really was their last resort before contacting the fire brigade.
"Thank you, Seth." Jon greeted, closing the door behind me. Logan wavered by the kitchen doorway, watching me like one of those old paintings in an ancient castle. He looked down to his hands when I glanced to him.
"Um… I guess I should go upstairs?" I asked, looking to Evelyn's grandparents.
"Yes, perhaps you could talk to her." Mrs Hund clasped her thin hands together, looking nervously to her husband, and then back to me. "She comes home from school before I'm back from shopping, you see, and Logan didn't pick her up today because he's…" She swallowed, her light eyes flickering. "Never mind. She caught the bus, and I thought she was doing her homework, so I left her to it. But she wouldn't come down for dinner… and pasta was one of her favourites…"
"It's nothing to do with your cooking, dear." Mr Hund smiled sadly, placing a solid hand on her shoulder and looking to me. "She's been ever so quiet the past few days. If you can't get her out then… I suppose…"
He stopped, and I nodded. "Okay. You should stay down here, if you don't mind. I think it will help."
"Of course." Mr Hund took a step back, as did Mrs Hund. Logan moved into the kitchen and Evelyn's grandparents meandered there too.
I braced myself, climbing the stairs, taking my shoes off before I did. Swallowing, I made my way to her door, gently placing my hand on the cold handle.
For a moment, I stayed silent.
Then I licked my lips and breathed gently in.
"Eve? It's me- it's Seth. I'm here now." I told her, closing my eyes. "I know you're there, Eve. Your family is downstairs. It's just you and me."
For a long time, all I heard was my breaths and heartbeat, but then ever so softly, her voice came through.
"Y-you're here, S-Seth?"
My head snapped up and my eyes opened. "Yes. I'm here Eve. I'll always be here."
She sniffed and I gripped the handle tighter. "You w-won't be angry with me?"
"Of course not." I said automatically.
After a short while, I felt and heard something fall off the door, and a loud sniff sounded from inside. Carefully, I pulled down the handle, and the door moved gently open. I peered around, anxious to see her.
She was by her bed, her legs pulled up to her chest, her head in her hands and her blonde hair falling in front of her like a veil. I pushed the door behind me, taking careful, silent breaths as I walked over to her. She didn't seem to move, but I saw as I came closer, her chest was heaving. Books were scattered around her, her small yellow bedside light fallen over.
I knelt closer to her, crossing my legs underneath me. I wanted to say something- anything- but I couldn't.
Then, finally, she lifted her face to the soft light of her fallen lampshade, and I saw why she didn't want to let anyone in her room.
A blossoming bruise, dark red at the moment, marked her left cheekbone, crawling up to her eye- which was swollen. Tears were threading down her cheeks, her eyes bloodshot. She didn't look at me.
An unknown anger gradually built up inside of me. The same anger I held towards the elders. It was surprising how discomforting it was, and I brought myself to reign it in.
"Who did this to you?" I asked her as calmly as I could.
She gazed down, tears dripping from her eyes as she pulled her legs closer to her chest.
"They told me I shouldn't s-stay outside for too long, that t-they'd come to g-get me-"She blubbered, her body beginning to shake now. "They s-said they'd hurt me-"her voice declined, and she let out a deep sigh, finally looking into my eyes. "I don't know why… but everyone hates me now." She whispered as if it was a secret. "I had so many friends Seth…" Her head fell in her hands again. "It's all my fault…"
The anger subsided, but it still rolled on as I moved closer to her. "Eve," I said very gently, "nothing is your fault. If anything, it's my fault. I kept you from your life… I'm so sorry this happened to you, Eve…"
I turned to her, prying her hands from her face and gently brushing my fingers over her cheek. She jumped, her eyes widening as they looked to me. "That must hurt a lot… do you have some salve or something?"
"It'll still hurt." She said quietly, the tears still tracing their way down her flushed face.
"Who did this? I need names, Eve."
"No… there were too many of them." She told me. I brushed a strand of her hair behind her ear and sighed.
"How long has this been going on for?" I questioned carefully. She looked away from me, to the books scattered around her.
"A while." She murmured.
"Evelyn!" I exclaimed in a quiet voice. "Why didn't you tell anyone? This is bullying-"
"I know! But I couldn't have anyone thinking I was so weak I'd let people kick and punch me…" She hiccupped and I sighed, wrapping an arm around her cold body and pulling her to me.
"I'm here now." I told her, breathing out the anger- or at least trying to. "They won't hurt you again, Eve. I won't let anyone hurt you again."
She sniffed, pressing her face into my shoulder. "I have to go back there though, Seth. I have to go to school."
That reality hit me and I hugged her closer, feeling as if I was utterly useless. This had been going on for weeks- and I knew nothing about it. I knew she hated school, but I didn't know about the bullying. I couldn't have known.
Later, when I had coaxed Eve downstairs and her grandmother was tending to her wounds, I listened to her grandpa shout over the phone to the principal of the school. Obviously, he didn't care that it was past nine at night. I knew I didn't.
Logan sat silently at the breakfast bar, his hands under his chin. Evelyn would glance to him every few moments and I wanted to know what was going through her mind. Her grandmother did find some salve and pasted it on her cheek no matter what Eve said, and right now she was tending to the bruise on her stomach, which looked red and very painful. Eve looked to me and I gave her a sad smile- one she returned.
Her grandfather ended the call in the hallway and made his way back to us, letting out a deep sigh as he leant on the door.
"He said he'd check it out tomorrow." He murmured.
"What will they do?" Evelyn asked with wide eyes. Her grandpa shrugged.
"Whatever they can so this doesn't get out." He shook his head.
"That's not right!" Logan suddenly shouted, standing on his feet instantly. I jumped at his sudden explosion. "This should have never happened in the first place. Look what they did to her grandpa! They hit her! That's disgusting! She can't go back there!"
"That's what you want, right?" Logan looked to Eve, sea green eyes both in a match. "You hate that school. I know you do. You can't go there now Evelyn, it's not right-"
"Okay, Logan." Eve's grandpa cut him off. "I know. We all know she cannot return there. I've seen a lot of… this… happen in my time, and it won't stop easily." He then looked to his granddaughter. "We're just going to have to find you another school."
I stayed at her house that night after calling my dad and telling him what had happened. It astounded me, really, that he understood so well, but then it was my dad, and he was always like that, really.
Evelyn and I had sleepovers during the summer, mostly in tents and shelters we had made by the lake, but tonight felt different. I laid on an old futon by her window while she was on her bed, and the silence rolled on uncomfortably. She had pleaded for me to stay, held onto my jumper cuffs and look at me with her wide, afraid eyes.
Her grandfather's words kept echoing through my mind. They were going to find her another school to go to. I was afraid that the worst would happen- they'd move and I'd hardly ever see her again. I tried to assure myself that it would never happen, but I knew it was a possibility.
"Say something." Her voice broke the silence. "P-please Seth, say something."
I swallowed, but nothing would come out.
"Seth?" I heard her sit up. My eyes flickered to her window, with the curtains still open and the moonlight coming through the dark clouds.
"What do you want me to say?" I asked quietly. "Because I don't know what to say, Eve."
"I-I don't know… anything…" She whispered tearfully. I let out a sigh and got to my feet, tip toeing to her bed. "What are you doing?" She asked quietly.
"Scoot over, will you? I'm getting cold." I said as an excuse. She moved gingerly over and I laid down. I turned over and smiled sadly at her. "Eve, did you really think I would be angry?"
She nodded a little. "I thought you would think I was hideous." She said quietly, touching her bruised face tenderly.
"I would never think that." I grinned, wrapping my arms quickly around her. She smiled, pressing her good cheek to the side of my chest.
"You're the best friend I've ever had, Seth." She murmured, her eyes fluttering closed and her breaths evening out.
When I knew she had fallen asleep, I let out a breath, pressing my nose to her hair, instantly smelling violets and strawberries. I closed my eyes and tried to imprint this moment in the centre of my mind, but all I kept thinking of was how little time I had left with her.