In Hoc Signo | Population of Loss (Part 1)
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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
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
“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
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
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
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.”
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
“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.
“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
“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
“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.”
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?”
“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
‘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
“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
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
“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
Evangeline’s brow began to furrow in concern. “Uhm…do you
“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
“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,’”
“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.”
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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,
“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
“Thanks for walking me, Sebastian. And… for everything
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
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,
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,
“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
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
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
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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