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First Impressions | After Dark (Part 2)
New girl in town Evangeline Garver meets the school un-welcoming committee. Fortunately, a newly minted hero comes to her rescue.
By Mike DiBaggio Posted in After Dark on November 19, 2019 31 min read
In Hoc Signo | Population of Loss (Part 1) Previous Marble Madness | Copper Knights & Granite Men (Part 2) Next

Story: Michael DiBaggio | Illustrations: Shell Presto

Balanced on the tips of her toes, Evangeline reached for a thin volume on the top shelf and then stopped, letting her pink-nailed fingertips drag down the spine of the aged text, softly scratching on the embossed golden letters that called her attention. She frowned, suddenly unsure of why she should care about Sumatra’s giant rats, and started to feel guilty about wasting tuition money on whimsy. The St. Bonaventure Academy and its paradigm of completely self-directed education had seemed like a dream come true when she begged her father to send her there, but now its vast, open libraries and its sophisticated labs and workshops seemed like a paralyzing over-abundance of opportunity.

She stared at the face of her slender, silver wristwatch as it ticked on toward 2:30 and the end of a day in which she had done absolutely nothing. This deadline would come and go without anyone noticing except herself, but it felt as stressful as the five minute warning on a final exam. She let out an anxious, almost whimpering sigh and wished that one of the preceptors, instead of waiting to be engaged, would take pity on her and assign a bundle of homework.

‘I really don’t have the discipline or the motivation to make it here,’ she thought, and not for the first time today.

“Hey, new girl.”

Evangeline turned toward the voice, only a little apprehensively, and flashed a nervous smile at the three teenage girls standing at the end of the aisle. Arranged in increasing height from left to right, they resembled a flight of steps with sardonic faces. The shortest (about as tall as Eva) was a peroxide blonde wearing gaudy plastic earrings the size and color of clementines that stretched her earlobes. She wore her hair in a severely tight ponytail and her thin, high-arched eyebrows, plucked to the point of surrender, left her looking permanently surprised. The biggest was a giant brunette, seemingly half as wide as she was tall, with small circles for eyes set deep behind her flabby cheeks. But the girl in the middle was stunning. She had dark eyes and a flawless, olive-colored complexion—a truly beautiful face that not even the disdainful sneer on her lips could diminish— and her black hair was lustrous and bouncy to a degree Evangeline could only attain in her dreams. But the worst of it was that she had the kind of curves that even a Catholic school dress code couldn’t hide. Eva, who had never before felt really insecure over her own figure, suddenly felt frumpy and boyish by comparison.

“Hi,” Evangeline squeaked over the lump in her throat. It was easy to guess what was coming.

“We like your blouse. Where’d you get it?” the little blonde asked. She had a hard time keeping a straight face.

Evangeline automatically examined her simple, seashell-colored garment, smoothing out one of the pleats that bisected an ornamental breast pocket. “I don’t remember. I’ve had it for a while.” She nervously brushed back a scarlet ringlet that hovered over the corner of her eye and held her breath in anticipation of the forthcoming insult.

“I have one just like it,” the blonde said, and she and the tall, fat one snorted simultaneously. “Except mine didn’t come covered in cat hair.”

Evangeline is accosted by the mean-girl clique in the library.

Evangeline winced. She regretted pestering Marshmallow all morning. She had been too nervous about her first day at school to sleep late or eat breakfast, and the fat Ragdoll cat provided the needed distraction.

‘Just don’t make eye contact and you can walk past them, Eva,’ she told herself and steeled her nerves to leave.

The blonde continued to taunt her. “I love fur, it’s so stylish!”

“Whatever,” Evangeline muttered, her volume almost too low to hear. She turned her back on them and started walking toward the opposite end of the aisle.

“Gawd, look at that skirt!” The fat one took a break from her affected snickering to reveal her incongruously nasal voice. “It does look like her mom dresses her!”

The blonde hurried to agree. “Totally, Laura. And with her old clothes!”

Evangeline turned quickly, fixing them in a furious glare. “My mom doesn’t live with me, you cow!” she snapped, her voice shaking. The three vipers were silent for a moment, the blonde’s penciled-in eyebrows peaking weirdly at Eva’s temerity. Suddenly the black-haired one started laughing and, after a few seconds, the blonde joined in. The fat girl’s already red cheeks went a deeper crimson, obviously stung by the cow remark and suspicious that her companions were actually laughing at her. Evangeline knew better.

‘Why did I say that?’ she thought. But she knew why. Part of it was that she hoped, futilely, that they might feel ashamed with themselves for picking on her if only they felt bad for her.

‘God, that’s so pathetic,’ Evangeline chastised herself. Her pale, freckled cheeks turned red with shame.

“Aww! No wonder,” the blonde interjected with a mock frown. “Did mommy dump you in the alleyway?”

“That’s not it, Angie,” the gorgeous raven-haired girl, obviously their leader, spoke for the first time. “She’s telling us her daddy dresses her. And undresses her. Touches her in her secret places.” Her two sycophants laughed triumphantly at the perverse remark. Evangeline froze and stared at her with a horrified expression on her face. The girl’s cruel, thin lips curled with real delight.

Evangeline felt like the perfect spineless buffoon just standing there, but she lacked the energy to do anything else. She felt violently ill, aware now that a new figure had appeared behind them, doubtless come to share in the revelry.

“Leave her alone, Vanessa,” demanded a stern male voice.

All four of the girls looked at the interloper in surprise. Evangeline thought he was vaguely familiar, but in the way of looking interchangeable with the other boys here: dark brown hair, blue eyes, wire-framed glasses, and only a little taller than the chieftain of the mean girls.

Angie clucked her tongue and Vanessa barked: “Why don’t you mind your own business, loser?”

“Why don’t you take your own advice?” returned Evangeline’s champion. He looked taller now as his shoulders squared and his chest filled with air. “Christ Almighty! Accusing her dad of molesting her? Really? That’s low even for you witches. Now out of the way, Meat Curtains!” He shouldered Laura to one side and waved Evangeline through.

“Don’t shove me, faggot!” growled the fat brunette, throwing her thick arms into his back.

The boy’s face darkened and his right arm, which had been hanging loosely at his side, cocked back. Laura must have thought he was really going to punch her because she immediately jerked backwards and her chubby eyelids reeled back in fear.

Evangeline sprinted to the doorway with her head down. If she didn’t look up, she wouldn’t have to lie about not seeing him deck Laura. She quickly ran down the first flight of steps and then waited tensely, but there were no screams, nor the fist-on-raw-meat crack she’d learned to expect from watching movies. Instead, the young man calmly followed her through the doorway.

His eyes met hers and, as they lingered, his lips curved into the most crooked, self-satisfied smirk she’d ever seen. She felt her body temperature flare, knew her cheeks were reddening again, and lowered her gaze so quickly that her hair bounced down from her shoulders and fell in a crimson curtain over her eyes.

Eva bit her lip and pressed back against the wall, rigid with shyness, waiting for him to say something or walk by or do anything at all to break the awkward tension. All she heard (for she couldn’t—wouldn’t— look at him) was a jingling of metal and the door re-opening. Cautiously, she brushed back her hair and looked up out of the corner of her eye. He had turned his back, dug a coin out of his pocket, and lobbed it back into the library. “Here’s a quarter,” he said to the girls, “buy yourselves a personality.”

The remark caught her by surprise and she nearly choked trying to quiet her laughter. Evangeline pushed her hair all the way back now and looked at her rescuer with fascination as he descended the stairs toward her. Whether it was a change in the lighting or a change in her mental perspective she didn’t know, but the young man had suddenly become handsome. She was captivated by his swagger and the defiant way he angled his chin. There was an intensity in those intelligent eyes and a manly strength in the horizontal plane of his shoulders that belied the softness implied by his delicate eyeglasses and still-boyish face. It hardly seemed possible to Evangeline that she could ever have found him interchangeable.

She waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. Instead he pushed open the door and held it for her.

“Thank you,” she broke the ice, unconsciously brushing her black skirt for clinging cat hair. “For sticking up for me, I mean. And holding the door. You didn’t have to.”

“Sure I did,” he said, “And you’re welcome.”

 “That line with the quarter was great! I wish I could have thought of that!” She cocked her head sideways, squinting up at him as she ducked under his arm and stepped out into the corridor.

He gave a wan half-smile, flicking his eyes down at her for a second, and then sighed. “I’m going to catch hell for that tomorrow. I wish it was socially acceptable to knock a broad’s teeth out of her mouth,” he announced. “They’re twats. Don’t pay attention to them.”

Evangeline smiled at his easy way with vulgar insults. She had always been told that nice boys didn’t talk like that.

“I won’t,” she said. It was a lie, of course. It was easy enough to say you won’t be bothered by something like that, and quite another to actually manage it.

“Easier said than done, I know,” he replied in a moment of psychic rapport. “But those girls are a minority. There are lots of friendly, decent kids here though.”

“Like you?”

He shrugged and smiled. “Nicer.”

“I’m Evangeline.” She proffered her hand in awkward greeting. “Do you live nearby?”

He shook her hand uncomfortably, nodded. “Yeah, I do. Oh, I’m Sebastian. I’m about ten blocks away, in Shadyside.”

“Me too! I just moved here last week, we’re renting a house on Summerlea Street.”

Sebastian answered without stopping. “I live closer to Chatham. You know where that is?”

“The girls’ college? Yeah, I think so,” Evangeline confirmed. She lengthened her stride to keep up with his quick pace.

Sebastian stopped abruptly and she almost tripped over her own feet while trying to adjust. He cocked his head when he looked at her, appearing a little bashful, and his tone was tentative. “Do you want me to walk you home, Evangeline? Or is somebody coming to—”

“Oh, sure!” she exclaimed, then, thinking she was acting a bit too excited, dialed it back. “I would like that. I… don’t fully know my way around, yet.”

“Cool,” he said, nodding. “Are you almost ready to go then? I just have to go to my locker quick.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“Meet you at the side exit then?” Sebastian suggested, pointing down the hall toward a pair of giant doors with brass latches that reminded Evangeline of the doors behind a castle’s drawbridge.

“I’ll be there in a jiffy,” she said and trotted down the hall towards the girls’ lockers.

Evangeline had to contend with a crowd of teenage girls gossiping and idly milling around the tight locker spaces, so that by the time she’d retrieved her jacket and got to the door, Sebastian was already standing there waiting.

“I thought you might have left without me,” he said, turning and hauling on the heavy door with both hands until it opened onto the campus. A stiff, deliciously cold wind filled the corridor and whipped Eva’s hair back in tangled strands.

“Sorry. You know how girls are.” She squinted at the bright sunlight and looked around, trying to orientate herself.

Sebastian and Eva talk as they walk home from St. Bonaventure.

“This way,” Sebastian said with a cock of his head. “Hey, that jacket looks a little light for this weather. Do you want mine? Here, you can borrow my gloves…” He was already pulling them off his hands when she emphatically declined.

“No, no, no! I’m fine. I’m really warm, actually. I’m…always really warm.”

“Ah, OK,” he said. “I just thought the Pittsburgh weather might have caught you by surprise. It was pretty warm last week, but the weather changes quickly in this town. It’s false spring. Where did you move from?”

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“Most recently from Deseret, but my dad and I’ve lived all over,” she answered.

“Oh, wow. From out of the country, then. I thought you might have moved from another part of Pennsylvania or Kanawha or something.”

“Nope. I was actually born in the ‘Planes, in Kansas. This is my first time in the Commonwealths.” She peeked up at him. “What about you?”

“Born here,” Sebastian replied. “I’ve gone to a couple of places before, but nowhere so far away as Heartland. Do you move a lot, then? Is it for your dad’s job?”

“Yeah. He’s a mining engineer.”

“That’s interesting.”

Evangeline shrugged. “He says he follows the money, but I think he just doesn’t like to stay in one place too long.”

“Oh. Do you think you’ll be staying in Pittsburgh for long?” Sebastian asked.

“He’s on a one year contract. We’ll see, I guess. I’d like to stay here until I go off to college.”

They paused at a street corner as a line of cars zipped by. “If you turn over there, you can shortcut around the traffic,” Sebastian said, angling his head in the direction they were walking while he kept his hands in his pockets. Evangeline noticed him shivering and briefly considered doing likewise.

‘No, don’t start doing that again,’ she scolded herself. ‘You don’t need to broadcast it, but don’t lie about it, either.’

“So what do you think of the ‘Burgh so far?” Sebastian broke in as they hurried across the street.

“I like it! The scenery is a nice break from Kansas. Everything is so flat out there. And it looks like there’s more to do here.”

“Yeah, there’s some cool stuff going on in the city and nearby,” he allowed. “It’s not Meridian Harbor or anything, but it’s not totally boring.”

“Maybe you can show me them sometime?” Evangeline ventured.

Sebastian smiled and looked straight ahead. “I’d be happy to,” he said in a quiet voice. Neither of them said anything for nearly half a block. Finally, clearing his throat, he said: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but… Evangeline. I like that. That’s a beautiful name.”

Evangeline looked down at her feet bashfully and chuckled. “Why would I take that the wrong way?”

He snorted with embarrassed laughter, held out his hands. “I have no idea.”

“Thank you, Sebastian.” She looked up at him as they walked; he glanced over at her, but then quickly looked away.

“Are you named after the Longfellow poem?” he asked, running his gloved hands through his short hair.

“You know that poem?” Evangeline was beaming. “Are you a Longfellow fan?”

Her ardor surprised him, and he laughed a little. “A fan? Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know the poem. And I appreciate good literature.”

“Oh, that’s exciting! I don’t think I’ve ever talked to anyone my own age who knew ‘Evangeline,’” she gushed. “I love poetry, especially the Romantics, but I’m fond of the early American stuff too. Who’s your favorite poet?”


“Ashbless?! You’re kidding!” Evangeline replied, so carried away by this unexpected new dimension of her companion that she forgot to politely mask her distaste. “That’s…obscure. Well, who’s your favorite author?”

“The Marquis de Sade,” declared Sebastian without a moment’s hesitation.

Evangeline’s brow began to furrow in concern. “Uhm…do you like Shakespeare?”

“I love Titus Andronicus,” he said.

The declaration seemed to have the weight of physical force. Evangeline stopped walking; she felt lightheaded.

Sebastian smiled at her. “I am kidding, yeah.”

Evangeline gave a profound frown. “You have a weird sense of humor, Sebastian.”

“Ha! And just ten minutes ago you were telling me how much you appreciated my wit.”

“You were using your powers for good then,” she smirked.

“Never! I only use my powers for awesome,” he riposted, and they both laughed.

“Is that your superpower? Being able to come up with the perfect witty rejoinder right on time?” Evangeline said.

Sebastian raised his eyebrow minutely, but said nothing.

“You know the French call that ‘the wisdom of the staircase,’” said Evangeline.

“I did use it on the staircase,” he said.

“I know! See? It’s perfect.”

He coughed into his hand and, inclining his head with an air of cockiness, said, “I did know that, actually. Because I can speak French.”

“Liar,” Evangeline accused, now confident in her ability to determine when he jested.

Je ne plaisante. Je parler français.

“Oh,” she started, her mouth open in surprise. Her confidence was obviously misplaced.

“And four other languages,” he continued. “Besides English.”

“Wow. I’m impressed. I didn’t mean to call you a liar. I thought you were kidding around.”

“I know.”

“What are the other languages?”

“Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and Catalan are the others I’m fluent in.”

“I suddenly feel…inadequate. I only know a very little French.”

He shrugged. “Nah. I’m no genius, my parents just started me on it early, so it’s been easy for me to pick them up. My dad would speak Portuguese to me since I was a baby, so I grew up speaking it just like English. I started on the others a little later. They really encouraged it even though I’m sure they knew I was using a lot of cuss words and talking back.”

Evangeline chuckled. “I’ll bet. So your dad is from Portugal?”

“My dad’s parents moved here from Brazil in the ’50s. Supposedly my grandfather’s father left Portugal with Pedro III during the Restoration. I say supposedly because I don’t think my grandfather would have felt a need to emigrate if his dad was buddies with the Emperor. My grandmother was from an Italian family in Brazil, and my mom’s side of the family is Italian and Swedish. They mostly came here before the Martians, but we still have a lot of relatives in ‘the old country.’ My parents are really into genealogy and they found a bunch of distant cousins on the grid and they like to use me as their official translator. It’s annoying.”

“That’s amazing. I know next to nothing about my family history.”

“You never told me your last name,” he said. “I guess I didn’t, either. Mine’s Pereira.”

“You’re right! How silly. My last name’s Garver.”

Sebastian Pereira inclined his head in thought. “Hmm…that’s probably English, so… I’d take a wild guess and say you have a lot of Irish or Scotch in you.”

“I knew that much,” she confirmed. “I guess the freckles and red hair are a dead giveaway, huh?”

“Gosh, yes.” Sebastian shivered theatrically. “I totally have a thing for gingers.”

“Oh, really?” Evangeline was blushing yet again, and thrust her hands into her jacket pockets. She wondered if he was really flirting with her. It would have been obvious to anyone else listening in, but it was often the case that shy young girls found reasons to doubt.

Sebastian opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but the words died in his throat and he let out a long sigh, the cloud of steam from his mouth momentarily fogging his glasses. “Sorry,” he muttered.

“Oh, about what?” Evangeline replied hurriedly. Now she wondered if he’d misinterpreted her reaction.

Sebastian hesitated. “Uh…about those girls back in the library. I’m sorry you had to deal with that.”

“Oh, yeah.” Evangeline’s expression darkened at the memory. She had been enjoying their conversation so much that she’d nearly forgotten about it. “What was their deal? I don’t think I even saw them before.”

“Deal? That’s just how they are. You didn’t have bullies in Kansas?”

“Really? They’re that nasty to just anybody? For no reason?”

“Genghis Cunt was jealous, and so she rallied her cronies to put you in your place.”

Evangeline stared at Sebastian wide-eyed. For a moment the profane (and, she thought, apt) nickname stunned her into silence, but she soon burst out laughing. “Genghis…” she shook her head, not finishing the name.

Sebastian smirked. “That’s what I like to call Vanessa DiPalmo and her pals. Genghis Cunt and her Mongolian Bitch Horde.”

“Well chosen,” Evangeline said. “But her being jealous of me? That’s really nice of you to say so, but we both know she has nothing to be jealous about.”

“What, you mean besides personality? You’re at least as good-looking as her. The reason she looks so attractive is because she’s always standing next to Angie ‘the burn victim’ Lasko and Larda Maxwell. Why do you think she keeps them around?”

“Oh boy, you have names for all of them,” Evangeline laughed.

“Meh, Larda is too obvious to really take credit for. But you can’t tell me Angie doesn’t look like a burn victim with those ridiculous eyebrows.”

He was right: she couldn’t deny it, so she said nothing at all. Evangeline brushed her wind-swept hair out of her eyes and started pulling it back into a hasty ponytail. “I guess I should expect them to get even with me tomorrow, huh?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Evangeline. If anything, they’ll probably focus on me.”

“Is that what you meant by catching hell over it?”

“They’ll probably spread some stupid rumors. Genghis may try to get one of her boyfriends to beat me up.”

“Oh, gosh, Sebastian! I’m so sorry I got you involved in this!”

“Well, you didn’t. I did.”


“I’m not worried about that stuff. But if any of the preceptors or the nuns overheard us, they’ll probably go to my mom and dad and they’ll…crap!”

“What’s wrong?” Evangeline asked, feeling rather guilty.

“You said you live on Summerlea, right? I got so caught up in talking to you I forgot where we’re going.” He pivoted on his heel and was already walking in the other direction.

“Don’t worry about it,” she quickly put in as she followed. “What about your parents? I’d really hate for you to get in trouble over me.” This was a pro forma lie, albeit unintentional; for even as she said the words she realized that the thought was flattering and exciting.

“I’ve been saving up to buy my mom’s old car. It’d be just like them to call off the deal over this.” Sebastian ground his teeth a little.

Evangeline was quick to volunteer her help. “If it would help at all, I’ll talk to them, tell them how it really happened!”

Sebastian looked at her out of the corner of his eye, smiling.

“It’s the least I can do,” she said.

“I may just have to take you up on that.”

Sebastian led Evangeline home more quickly than she would have liked. They talked the whole way, their conversation effortless and pleasant. She found herself laughing a lot more than she was used to. When her house finally came into view over the lip of the hill, she thought she might pretend not to notice where she was and keep on walking.

Then she spotted her dad’s car along the curb and remembered that he wasn’t working today. Very briefly she considered introducing Sebastian to her father, but she doubted either of them would appreciate that.

“Well, I guess I’m home.” The announcement came with such a dolorous tone that Sebastian eyed her curiously and Evangeline, surprised that her inner thoughts had crept so blatantly into her voice, let out a little embarrassed laugh.

“Thanks for walking me, Sebastian. And… for everything else.”

He winked at her. “My pleasure, Evangeline.”

“So… I guess I’ll see you tomorrow?” she asked, backing up the stairs to her front door.

“I’ll look for you. Oh! Wait!” He held up his wrist and pulled his sleeve up. A rectangle of glossy black plastic strapped to his wrist flashed in the sunlight. “Uhm, did you want to swap contact info? I don’t know if you have your mobi on you…”

“Yeah! I do!” she replied excitedly, and hastily dug her own bodycomp out of her jacket pocket. She tapped it flat against his, and the two mobis chimed in sequence.

“Feel free to call or message me whenever!” Then, embarrassed by her over-enthusiasm, she wished him a good night and ducked inside her house almost before he could reply.

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Marshmallow was already purring and rubbing his back against her shin by the time she’d stepped through the foyer into the living room. Evangeline scooped the cat up off the ground and let out a squeak of happiness as she cradled him against her chest.

“I missed you today! Even though you got me in trouble!” she said, tapping him on his pink nose.

“Trouble? What kind of trouble?” Matthew Garver drew the question out slowly, sounding like a bored psychiatrist.

Evangeline started and leaped up from her crouch, and Marshmallow sprang from her arms onto the couch. She hadn’t even noticed her father sitting at the table, half-obscured behind a levee of cardboard boxes that still hadn’t been unpacked. She trotted over to him and kissed him on the cheek.

For a hundred reasons, she didn’t feel like telling him about her encounter with Genghis Cunt and the Mongolian Bitch Horde. Fortunately, she knew from his tone of voice that he was feigning interest out of courtesy, so she wouldn’t have to. “Nothing. I just had some cat hair on me, that’s all.”

He looked up from the mess of binders, protractors, and laminated data cloth on the table and stretched his long, tan arms over his head. “Ah, fashion trouble,” he yawned.

Matthew stood up and leaned against the back of the chair as he sized up his daughter. “Well? How was this so-called school of yours?” There was a note of gentle mockery in his voice, and his shrewd grey eyes squinted at her in judgment. He viewed St. Bonaventure’s pedagogical model (or lack thereof) skeptically and made no secret of it.

Evangeline thought back on Sebastian and smiled. “You know, it’s a bit of getting used to, but I like it! I made a friend already!”

“Great! What’s her name?”

“Sebastian. Uh, I think…” she hastily added, trying not to sound too interested.

Her father stroked his blond beard thoughtfully. “Hmm, doesn’t sound like a girl’s name to me.”

She stuck her tongue out at him. “He’s a boy, Dad. It’s not a big deal.”

“I hope you did something more than flirt with boys all day, Evangeline.”

“Of course! Lots!”

“So tell me.”

She hesitated, trying to put the confusion and idleness of her first day in a good light. “Well, they started off by showing me around the place. I talked to all of the preceptors, and they told me about their fields. I toured the workshops and listened in on a debate. I saw the chapel… and the gym… and…”

Her father waved her on. “So you gabbed a lot, and walked around. Right, right, go on.”

She cocked her head and frowned at him. “And I spent a lot of time reading.”

“I’m relieved you could work in something approximating education,” he said.

“That’s not fair, dad. It’s my first day. I was sort of overwhelmed by everything.”

“Are you going to do something more productive tomorrow? Besides tossing your hair and fluttering your lashes at Sebastian, I mean.”

Evangeline did her best to ignore the snide comment. “Yes. One of the preceptors was a stage director and she’s gathering ideas for the year-end play. And I can take drawing lessons, too!”

He made a sour face. “I guess that counts for something.”

“Dad, come on! Not everybody has to be an engineer. I have no interest in that stuff and I’m not cut out for it anyway. I just didn’t get your brains.”

Matthew Garver’s condescending expression straightened, his lips pressed together in a hard line.
Evangeline saw the change and her shoulders slumped. She knew what was coming, wondered what she might say to defuse the situation, but she had no answers. She just wanted to get the fighting done with.

“What did I say now?” she whispered.

“You wouldn’t take after me, would you? No, you are your mother’s daughter.” His voice was cold and distant; he laid the statement on like a curse.

Evangeline’s throat tightened and she felt the familiar sting in her eyes. “What does that mean?”

She remembered—and it didn’t seem so long ago—when she felt like she was everything to her father. They would play and sing together and laugh at each other’s corny jokes. And she remembered how he told her how proud she made him.

Now, every conversation was a battle and everything she did seemed a bitter disappointment to him. Now, she could talk more easily with a boy she’d known for a half-hour than with her own father. Now, she looked forward to his late nights at work because she could go to sleep without seeing his angry, suspicion-filled glances on the backs of her eyelids and wondering what she could have possibly done to merit them.

“What did I do wrong?” Evangeline desperately wanted an answer to that question. She spent long, painful hours locked up inside herself trying to figure it out.

She could time her father’s resentment to the day he first learned that she was a talent. Evangeline expected that reaction, knew how uncomfortable, even afraid, it made many people. But she had also expected him to get over it by now.

She feared that the problem was not thermokinesis or anything she’d done, but something deeper, something about whom she was: A girl. A girl who reminded him of his ex-wife. The sound of her voice. Something unfixable.

Whatever it was, his silence told her he wasn’t going to reveal it today. As she rubbed at her tears she said, “I don’t know what you want me to do.”

She felt the reassuring warmth of his hand on her back as he stepped forward and hugged her. “I’m sorry, Eva,” he whispered. His eyes were closed and his chin rested on her head and he held her tight, and she lowered her arms and hugged him back.

“Forgive me,” he said, and she knew he meant it. He still sometimes had these flickering moments of real tenderness.

But a flicker is all they were. There would be another fight tomorrow or maybe even tonight.

“Someone needs to look out for you, keep you on the right path, you know?” he said eventually, and the familiar harshness crept back into his voice. “You need me to be tough on you. Someday you’ll understand.”

She pulled away from him, sniffing back her tears. “I’m going to go finish my chores and then take a nap. I’m pretty tired.”

“What about dinner? Don’t you want—”

“I’m not hungry.” Nauseous was more like it. She stooped to grab Marshmallow and hurried upstairs.

The story you’ve just read is an excerpt from After Dark, a novel of teenage superheroics on the eerie side of Pittsburgh. Buy the book online or learn about the other ways you can support us.

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