EVIE GONZALEZ FELT HER WAY BACK OUT OF THE WOODS. Her fingertips grazed against rough tree bark and sticky sap while her feet tripped over fallen branches and knobby underfoot roots. She thought she heard a slither off to her right and a hiss off to her left and hurried though the tangled mass of trees more quickly, twigs snagging at her short dark hair as she ran.
And then…it was over.
With mascara- streaked cheeks, smeared ruby -red lipstick and two- hundred and fifty dollars tucked into one of the pockets of her black leather jacket, Evie burst out of the thicket of murky woods with a breathy sigh of relief. She was tugging her black mini-skirt down over her thighs when two guys stepped out from behind her, both of them wearing Thornwood Academy yellow and black letterman jackets. They were both beautiful boys but they both had girlfriends and Evie meant nothing to them. Without a word to her, they headed for a sleek black Lamborghini parked alongside the road.
“Hey, um, can you give me a lift?” Evie mumbled behind them. It was somewhere after nine o’clock on a Saturday night and everything was so dark that she didn’t want to make her way back to the party by herself. But the boys just smirked, and after exchanging a look, the taller one said, “Yeah right.” And then they both hopped into the car and sped off without a second glance her way.
Their music was loud and for a few seconds it drowned out the erratic pounding of Evie’s heartbeat. She stood there watching their tail lights disappear and then she was all alone again. Or so she thought. She had just pulled out her cell phone so that she could call someone to come and pick her up when the start of an engine caught her attention. She looked up just in time to see blazing yellow headlights shooting straight toward her.
Evie screamed and stumbled out of the way, just as the car zoomed past, missing her by inches. She blinked in dazed astonishment as she stood up from where she had fallen, mud and soggy leaves clinging to her hair and skin. Her hands and her knees were scrapped a little too but it was nothing serious, and as she stood there brushing herself off as best as she could, she thought about her phone. Frantically, she began a hasty search for it, a not so easy task since she had no light to guide her. However, she finally managed to find it half buried underneath a pile of brown decaying leaves. She bent over and wrapped her fingers around it just as the screen lit with a notification. She had one new text message. Blinking back tears, Evie read the message repeatedly, but it didn’t go away.
I SAW WHAT YOU DID, it read. AND I’M TELLING.
Two days later, everyone knew what Evie Gonzalez had done. They called her a whore and a slut and wrote her name on the bathroom wall of the boy’s bathroom in permanent black marker. For Evie, it really shouldn’t have been any surprise. In the eyes of the wealthy and privileged at Thornwood Academy, she had always been a whore and a slut. But on Monday morning it was different. Evie felt their stares the moment she stepped off of the bus that morning, heard their not so soft whispers and immediately wanted to crawl into a hole and die. She wasn’t sure why this time was any different. It just was. Maybe it was because there was only so much a person could take before they finally hit rock bottom. And Evie? Well, she was already there.
Thornwood Academy was one of the largest preparatory schools in the country. Located in Shepherd’s Bay, California, a prominent city tucked between Los Angeles and Long Beach, it extended across acres of lush green land and featured elaborate colossal brick and glass buildings and colorful Japanese maple trees along red -brick sidewalks.
Evie tried to ignore everyone as she walked toward the building that housed her first period math class. She wore her usual scowl and her usual black leather jacket over the mandatory school uniform-royal blue pleated skirt and a button –up crisp white top complete with a royal blue necktie. She wasn’t wearing the matching blue blazer and instead had it tucked into her black backpack.She did her best to freeze out the world around her, but even though she pretended to be invisible, she knew that all eyes were on her.
Some guy, with shaggy light brown hair threw a slip of paper at her. “Call me,” he taunted. “I bet we can have a real good time.”
His friends cackled like hyenas but Evie held her head up high and continued her walk of shame. She would not cry. Not here. Her patent leather black boots carried her into the school, pass more gawking teenagers and up to the second floor toward her locker, which unfortunately had someone standing next to it. Evie rolled her eyes as she approached Taylor James, a medium height African- American girl who had been in Evie’s art class the year before. They had sat at the same art table and had shared pencils and paints. But she wasn’t Evie’s friend. Evie didn’t have friends.
Yet, Taylor seemed to feel differently. She was always smiling and waving at Evie and had even offered to give Evie a ride home from school a few times.However, Evie wasn’t sure why Taylor was trying so hard to be her friend. They had absolutely nothing in common.
Even though Taylor wasn’t as wealthy as some of the other kids, she was still quite well off and compared to Evie, she was considered somewhat popular. Still, she treated Evie no differently than she treated anyone else. Evie wasn’t sure if this chick was just super nice or really naïve.
“Girl,” Taylor exclaimed as if she and Evie were best pals and talked every day. “Have you seen Savanna’s newest Gossip Game post?”
Evie shook her head. Of course she hadn’t seen it but she knew it was what everyone was talking about that morning. Savanna strikes again, she thought.
Savanna Morgan was known as the ‘It Girl’ at Thornwood Academy. She was not only a beautiful wealthy cheerleader, but she had her own clique called The Queen Bees and she was also the creator of The Gossip Game, a gossip vlog on the popular teen media site Truth and Liars. But most of all, Savanna was Evie’s number one enemy. Savanna always found time to torture Evie whenever she could, but surprisingly it was Evie’s first time being featured on The Gossip Game. Every week, Savanna chose a victim and spilled all of that person’s dirty little secrets in her vlog. It was always cruel and always mean but that was Savanna’s nature. Now two months into the new school year, Evie had finally been chosen and she had a feeling that it wasn’t pretty.
“Show me.” Evie’s voice cracked a little underneath the words.
Taylor’s honey- brown eyes widened. “Are you sure? I mean I don’t think…I don’t think you should see it. It’s pretty evil.”
“Look, you’re the one who brought it up. If you don’t want to show me, then fine, but I have a class to get to and you’re standing in my way.”
Taylor bit her lower lip but finally pulled up the Truth and Liars site on her apple- red iPhone and headed for Savanna’s page. “I really don’t know why they haven’t taken this down yet. It’s just not right.” She clicked on Savanna’s latest post and reluctantly turned the phone toward Evie. Evie practically held her breath as she watched.
First, Savanna gave an account of who Evie was. According to Savanna, Evie was a poor scholarship student who had not only slept with the entire football team, but the entire baseball team as well.
And then there was the video.
It was footage from the woods on Friday night.From the moment Evie had entered the thicket of trees with the two boys until the time all three of them had come out together. Everyone who went to Savanna’s page would see Evie getting naked with the boys, see her kissing and touching the boys and see her doing so much more with them. Evie’s face went crimson as she viewed the images in front of her, not believing that Savanna had been there the entire time. And more likely than not, it had probably been Savanna who had almost run Evie down afterwards and sent her that text message. Evie found herself wanting to punch something. Preferably Savanna’s face. It was one thing for Evie to know that she had done those things but it was quite another to know that everyone else knew that she had done those things. To say the least, it was completely mortifying.
She glanced away from Taylor so that the other girl couldn’t see the pain that lurked behind her eyes. “Turn it off,” she mumbled.
Taylor stopped the video and logged off of the site. Then she placed a gentle hand on Evie’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to show you.”
Evie shrugged the hand away. “Why should you be sorry? You’re not the school slut.” And then she pushed past Taylor and continued down the long crowded hallway of immaculately dressed uniformed students. Behind her, she could hear Taylor calling her name.
But Evie didn’t want sympathy, she wanted to be alone. Usually, that meant going to the lake, but today it meant the stadium out on the football field. Just for a few minutes. Until first period began anyway.She took the stairs back down two at a time. Guys and girls both sneered at her as though she was a slimy disease slinking her way through their precious hallways. Evie kept her own eyes downcast, willing her feet to hurry toward the field a little faster. There, she thought. Door. It was the door leading out toward the field. She was almost there. Except, she didn’t quite make it. A sudden force shoved her backwards and Evie’s head collided with the ivory-colored wall behind her. She grimaced in pain, closing her eyes for a brief second before opening them again. When she did, she saw two girls standing in front of her. One was blonde and petite and the other was tall and raven- haired. It was the tall one who had pushed Evie but it was the shorter one who pulled back her hand and slapped Evie hard across the face. The kids in the hallway started clapping and hooting loudly, obviously waiting to see if a full blown fight was about to take place.
Evie’s hand flew up to her stinging cheek. It hurt almost as much as her head colliding with the wall.
“You freaking whore,” the shorter girl raged. She started to hit Evie again but Evie’s hand shot up and knocked the girl’s arm away.
“Look, I don’t know who the hell you think you are,” Evie countered, getting right up in the girl’s face, “but if you put your hands on me again, your friend here is going to have to pick your teeth up from the floor.”
“Hold up, hold up,” a guy said, stepping between the girls and Evie. It was Josh, one of the guys from the woods. Evie didn’t know his last name. “I told you to drop it. She’s not worth it babe. Let it go.” He glanced back at Evie and frowned. “Just a mistake.”
His words shouldn’t have hurt. After all, Evie had only had sex with him because she needed the money. It hadn’t been anything serious. But as the second boy from the woods, Alex, came over to try and calm down the taller girl, Evie couldn’t help but feel a small pinprick of hurt from somewhere deep inside.
Seeing that there wouldn’t be any more drama that morning, the other students started to drift away and Evie managed to escape the still angry girls and their boyfriends by slipping out of the nearby double doors and heading out to the large football field. She crawled underneath a set of bleachers and sat there alone, her face buried in her lap as she tried to calm herself down. Evie’s life hadn’t always been so complicated. There was a time when she used to be happy. Back when her twin brother Ethan was alive. They use to have so much fun together. Playing hide- and -seek in their backyard, sharing secrets and stories in the little treehouse their dad had built for them. But then Ethan had died when they were seven. And things hadn’t been the same for Evie since. Now eight years later, Evie was a shadow of her childhood self. On the outside she was the tough bad girl that couldn’t be bothered with anyone else, but on the inside she was like a lonely sad child who craved attention but who didn’t know how to get it. She couldn’t be happy because she didn’t know how to be.
The shrill sound of the school bell shattered Evie’s thoughts and she slowly lifted her head from her lap. The last thing that she wanted to do was go to class. Maybe I should just drop out, she thought bitterly. After all, what’s the point? No one likes me and I don’t have any friends. But deep inside Evie knew that there was a point. Maybe if she graduated, her dad would actually be proud of her. Maybe he’d actually love her. So Evie climbed out from underneath the bleachers and headed to her first period class.
Usually, like in all of her classes, she sat in the back of her math class. Her desk was located near a window overlooking the football field and a lot of days she stared out of the window and daydreamed about what it would be like if she were someone else, anyone else. But that day her seat was occupied…by what seemed to be hundreds of packaged condoms. They spilled from the seat and desk and created a carpeted pile on the floor. Evie felt like the room was spinning as all of the kids in the class burst into hysterical laughter.
“Trojan! Trojan! Trojan!” they all began to chant.
Evie closed her eyes as everyone laughed and tried to hold back the tears that were threatening to spill over. She would not let them see her cry. Instead she quickly ran from the room just as the teacher stepped over the threshold. “What in the world…?” he gasped. But Evie was already gone before he could stop her. She pushed past him and ran down the hallway and straight into the girl’s restroom. But that was a mistake. Savanna Morgan was there. She and her malicious clique, the Queen Bees were standing beside the creamy white porcelain sinks, gazing at their already perfect reflections while applying more lip gloss than they actually needed. Evie stood still, as if she were a deer caught in headlights, and as she stood there staring at the Queen Bees, a painful memory wrapped itself around her brain and carried her back to the past. She rode on the wings of the flashback and didn’t see anything else except one specific day two years ago.
Evie had been a freshman then. And the Queen Bees…well, they had been the Queen Bees. Evie remembered everything about that day, the sweaty smell of the gymnasium as she ran her fifth lap around its perimeter, the pounding of shoes across the gleaming hardwood floor and the cheerleaders doing their practice routines in the middle of it all. Their P.E. teacher, Mrs. Schwarz had placed Evie and the rest of her seventh period class on punishment because she was sick of them chewing gum and leaving it on the bleachers and gym lockers. Hence, the laps around the gym. The Queen Bees, who of course practically made up the cheerleading squad, pointed and laughed at them and blew bubble-gum bubbles as pink as the cotton candy lipstick that they wore. Evie frowned at them, her long dark locks dancing across her shoulder blades and back as she ran.
Afterwards, she was the last one to take a shower because Mrs. Schwarz had decided that Evie would be the one to organize all of the gym equipment. The task seemed to take a hundred years and by the time she was done, all of her classmates had already disappeared and Mrs. Schwarz had stepped out for her usual four o’clock smoke break. Evie stripped off her clothes and stepped into a stall and underneath a still dripping showerhead. She turned on the shower full blast and after a couple of seconds, she reached her hand out from behind the shower curtain and grabbed her Suave shampoo bottle that was hanging on the little silver rack lining the pale green tile wall next to the stall. She lathered up and closed her eyes, enjoying how the hot water relaxed her sore muscles and how the fruity aroma of the shampoo tickled her nose.
After a few minutes however, her scalp began to sting, an irritating burning sensation that started at the nape of her neck and worked its way upward. “What the…?” she gasped out loud. She removed her fingers from her head and looked down at her hands. Thick clumps of dark hair clung to her fingertips like damp spider webs on dew-covered grass. Evie let out a loud heart rendering yell as she pulled out more and more of her hair, watching as it fell to the wet slippery floor at her bare feet and gathered at the silver drainage there. Everything around her at that moment danced behind her eyes though a veil of tears and as she continued crying and screaming, she heard laughter beyond the sound of the water still pouring from the shower head. She pulled back the shower curtain and stumbled out and came face to face with the Queen Bees. They formed a semi-circle around her, and Savanna, their leader, glared at her, as if Evie had been the one who had done something wrong.
“You…you did this to me.” Evie sank down to her knees in tears and humiliation. “ You made me ugly.”
Savanna shook her head. “I didn’t make you anything. You’re already ugly.” She bent low and met Evie’s eyes. “I hope you go and kill yourself,” she whispered. “After all, ugly people don’t deserve to live.” And then she had stood up and walked out of the locker room, and after shooting Evie disgusted looks, the other two girls had followed her, leaving Evie on the floor in a puddle of water.
That was the first time that Evie had thought about the “S” word- suicide, and even now, she couldn’t help wondering what things would be like if she just didn’t exist anymore.
“Well, if it isn’t the girl of the hour,” Mia Valentine announced as Evie stepped back into the present. “Are you having fun with your newfound popularity?”
Evie ignored her and instead turned her attention to Savanna. “You had no right,” she spat at the other girl.
Savanna’s green eyes shot daggers at Evie. “I had every right. It’s not my fault you were acting like such a slut that night. Maybe if you start keeping your skirt on, no one would have anything to talk about.”
“You’re a fine one to talk,” Evie tossed back. After all, even though Savanna had a boyfriend, they seemed to break up every week and when they did, Savanna would latch on to someone else. Didn’t that make her just as bad as Evie?
Savanna walked over to Evie, her steps deliberate and slow until she was directly in front of her and they were practically eyelash to eyelash. “But there’s a difference between you and I,” she declared. “Boys actually like me. You on the other hand mean nothing to them. You’re a loser Evie. Remember that.” And then with one last disgusted look, she moved past Evie and walked away, her friends following at her heels like faithful puppy dogs.
After they left, Evie walked up to the sink and stared at herself in the mirror. Her short dark hair, which had taken her a year to grow out, was a mess and her blue eyes were filled with unshed tears. She gripped the edges of the sink as she stared at her reflection. Savanna’s right, she thought. I am a loser. A loser and a freak. And then suddenly it was Savanna’s face in the mirror instead of her own. Savanna’s beautiful perfect face smirking at her, and suddenly Evie’s sadness turned into rage and without warning, she let out an angry yell before raising her fist and aiming it toward the mirror. The glass shattered, the silver shards littering the inside of the sink and along the floor at Evie’s feet. But Savanna’s face was gone now and all that remained was the distorted image of Evie, her reflection as broken as the heart that pounded rapidly inside her chest.
They sent her home after that. She got suspended for a day plus her dad had to pay for the mirror. He wasn’t happy about that. In fact, Victor Gonzalez hadn’t been happy for a very long time. As they drove away from the school, he didn’t say a single word.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” Evie folded her arms across her chest, a little awkwardly because the school nurse, Mr. Scott, had bandaged her hand with medical tape and white gauze. It was beginning to itch a little and Evie had to resist tearing open the dressing so that she could scratch it.
Her dad didn’t reply. He just gripped the steering wheel more tightly.
Evie turned and stared out at the passing scenery, her sad eyes blurring with tears. She watched as the world passed by, slipping from immaculate mini-mansions and glimmering neighborhoods to vacant torn down houses and prostitutes and drug dealers hanging out on street corners. It was when they were at a red light, that Evie undid her seat belt.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Those were the first words that her dad had spoken to her since leaving the school.
“Let me out.” Evie demanded.
Her dad sped off when the light turned green. “No. You’re coming home with me.” He took a side street a little too fast and Evie jerked in her seat and almost fell against him.
“Screw you,” she retorted as they paused at a stop sign a few seconds later. And then she threw open her car door and stumbled out.
“Evie, get back in here! Are you insane?” And then he grimaced as he realized what he’d said. Another car, a mint green Chevrolet with gold rims and pounding music, rolled up behind Evie’s father and the driver blew on its horn impatiently. “Evie. Nwo,” her dad commanded. Now.
He use to heave those words at her when she was younger and she would listen to him. But not today. Instead, Evie spun on her heels and ran away. She could hear her father calling behind her but she kept running and she didn’t stop until she reached the lake. It was located behind her old middle school, and feeling as if all energy had escaped her body, she collapsed underneath a large oak tree nearby and stared out at the lake for a very long time. As she did, memories haunted her like ghosts from the past.
Evie and Ethan Gonzalez were only four minutes apart and they both had silky raven- black hair, eyes the color of the bluest ocean, complexions that always appeared tanned, and identical mischievous smiles. On the day that they turned seven, they smiled those mischievous smiles and wandered off of the playground of their elementary school. They held hands as they walked, not knowing exactly where they were going, but knowing that they were going somewhere. They found themselves standing at the edge of a crystal blue lake located behind a new brick structure that was supposed to be the new middle school. There was a lumpy wet brown log floating in the water and Evie pulled her hand out of her brother’s and turned to face him, a delicious gleam glinting in her eyes. “I bet you can’t swim out to that log,” she teased him. When they were three, their parents had gotten them swimming lessons at the local YMCA. So it wasn’t like they couldn’t swim; they just weren’t supposed to, at least not without parental supervision. But even at seven, Ethan and Evie considered themselves risk takers. They weren’t afraid of anything. Especially when they were together.
“I bet I can,” Ethan answered his twin. “I can do it. You’ll see.” So he took off his tiny blue slip-on shoes and began to step out into the lake.
For a second, Evie got scared. What if their parents found out what they were doing? What if they got punished and she had to go to bed without dessert for a week? But her fear trailed away as Ethan began to make his way farther out into the lake. What was she so worried about? Her parents weren’t going to find out. No one was going to find out. She placed a hand on her forehead, using it as a shield for her eyes against the sun. “Ethan!” she called. He looked back once and waved, letting her know that he was okay. And then he continued to swim, his little body cutting though the water like a knife. He was almost to the log now and Evie figured he would win the bet after all.
Just then birds fluttering in a nearby tree caught Evie’s attention. She only took her eyes off her brother for a few seconds to watch them but a few seconds proved too late. When she turned back to the water, there was no sign of Ethan in the lake. Frantically, her eyes scanned the surface of the smooth water. “Ethan!” she yelled. “Ethan!” But there was no answer. There was no wave. There was nothing. Ethan was gone. He had simply…disappeared.
Evie slipped out of her memories to find herself crying. They had found Ethan later, his small body pale and bloated from the water and his beautiful wide blue eyes closed forever. From that moment, things began to unravel and Evie’s family was never the same after that. Now she wiped at her tears and glanced around. It was getting dark, which meant that she had been sitting out by the lake for hours. It was nearly dinner by now. She looked at her phone to see if her dad had tried to contact her. He hadn’t. Thanks for worrying dad, she thought bitterly. She stood up, dusted the back of her dark pleated uniform skirt, and then grabbed her backpack. It was time to head for home. She glanced back one last time at the lake and then took the long way back. She wasn’t in any hurry.
When she finally arrived home, Evie just stood there in front of her house for a few seconds. The white paint was peeling from all sides and the yard was overgrown with thick weeds and flowers. Evie couldn’t remember the last time that her father had cut it. With a heavy heart, she trudged forward and went inside to find her father sitting at the small wooden kitchen table, a plate of vegetables and chicken nuggets in front of him. On the opposite side of the table sat another plate, one that was meant for her. But Evie didn’t want to eat. A few years back, her dad had actually tried to cook, but now it was like he didn’t even care. He threw whatever together and expected her to eat it.
“Sit down,” he told her quietly. He didn’t ask where she had been and Evie wondered if he even cared. She wanted to protest, but before she could stop herself, she sat down anyway. She picked at the peas on her plate and listened to the quietness of the old house. It hadn’t always been so quiet. It used to be filled with normal family talk and laughter and the noisy stampede of kids running through the house. Back then things had been simple, fun. But now, there was nothing. Evie and her dad hardly ever spoke to each other anymore. He went to work, she went to school and when they came home they ate dinner and then they went to bed. And the next day they would begin the whole routine all over again. Evie wondered if her father even loved her anymore. After all, he never said it, never even expressed it. But maybe the pot couldn’t call the kettle black. She never said it either.
Evie spent the next twenty minutes picking at her food before deciding that she couldn’t handle the silence any longer. “Goodnight,” she mumbled after dumping her plate in the kitchen sink. Her dad didn’t respond and Evie rolled her eyes, wondering why she had even tried in the first place. In the bathroom, she brushed her teeth and splashed cold water on her face. Then she stared at her face for a few seconds in the mirror before tentatively opening the medicine cabinet above the sink. It squeaked open on its rusty hinges and a chill traveled down Evie’s spine as she spied her dad’s Xanax pills. What would it be like, she wondered, if I took all of these and went to sleep? What if I just went to sleep and never woke up? She would be with her brother again wouldn’t she? She closed her eyes and tried not to cry again. She had been crying a lot lately. She closed the cabinet and left the bathroom, turning the light off behind her.
As soon as Evie reached her bedroom, her phone lit with an incoming call. It was Taylor. Evie wasn’t really in the mood for talking so she let the call go to voice mail, turned out her bedroom light and began to play one of the eighties records that she had recently collected. She had become fascinated with eighties alternative music a few years ago and now she had a collection of albums lining a shelf on one side of her bedroom. As she listened to “Under the Milky Way” by The Church, she stretched out on her bed and stared up at the peeling white ceiling. She drifted off to sleep that way, silent tears coursing
down her cheeks and falling onto the green- striped bedspread beneath her.