Eyes on the page. Pencil mark prowess: curls and strikes. Wild leaps and slashes of grey ripping blue lines. Scribble that reared into snake and hissed out lightningbolt phlegm. Stick figure with a raised arm morphing into a blooming flower of pendulums.
“—and a massive earthquake—”
Line sizzled out flat and Evan dropped his pencil. He looked up. Bush of hair barred the board. The teacher turned to face them, sterneyed.
“One of the top twenty strongest earthquakes ever recorded on a seismograph,” the teacher was saying, eyes flickering around the room. “Eighty-eight deaths in Sumatra alone. And the amazing and terrifying thing about earthquakes is that they are basically impossible for scientists to predict.” He nodded to a girl in the front row. “Well, we’re out of time, but thank you for an excellent presentation, Riley.”
Tired applause pattered. Evan slapped his hands together a few times.
He shoved his materials into his bag and walked down locker lined hallway towards the cafeteria. Earthquakes, he thought. Buildings shuddering, cities crumbling, ground splitting wideopen. That’s what my house is going to be like tonight. A jumble of quaking bodies. Why does he have to have this party? He’s barely been here and he’s already taken over the whole house, as if everything belongs to him. If a neighbor calls the cops… and what’ll Lindsey do?
Evan entered long lunchline. Cafeteria foodsmell swam above: tinwrapped burger radiation and doused penne clouds, defrosted salad bar breeze. He picked up lasagna and green beans and grabbed a chocolate milk. He walked carefully—lasagna wiggling like jello—to the other side. He spotted Barnes.
Blonde kid, combed hair, polo shirt, hunching a bit over a packed lunch. Evan nodded as he approached.
“Hi Evan,” Barnes said.
His voice was always a bit nasally. Evan placed his tray down and dropped off a binderstuffed backpack.
“How was the bio test?” Barnes asked. “Should I be worried?”
“Worry not,” Evan said. “It was some easy shit. Except I forgot one of the stages of the cell cycle, that was atrocious.”
“That’s not too bad,” Barnes said.
“Yeah I forgot the damn second gap.” He tried a soggy green bean. “Hey, guess what. Alex is throwing down tonight. A big party.”
“A party? Really?” Barnes sniffled. “Do you think people will be drinking?”
Evan tried to play it off cool. Swigged Nesquik. “Wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, he’s eighteen. He’s been trying to do shit like this forever. Lately he’s been smoking cigarettes around Lindsey.” He glanced at the clock. “I don’t know. Should I sleep over at your place? Don’t even know if I want to be there.”
“Well, I’m sure you could if you wanted to. We could watch Kill Bill. You still haven’t seen part two. It’s even better than the first part, trust me.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Evan paused. “But if Lindsey can’t go anywhere I’ll need to stay.”
After lunch, Barnes dashed to take the bio test for himself and Evan plodded off to forty five minutes of completing the square.
When Evan got home and hung up his jacket, his parents were heading out.
“You and Alex take care of Lindsey, all right?” Dad told him.
“Yeah, wait,” Evan called, “is Lindsey going to a friend’s? I thought she wanted to.”
“No, I think she’s expecting to play with the two of you tonight,” Mom said, stacking dishes with rapid machine precision. “Please pay attention to her. I already explained everything to Alex. There’s leftovers in the fridge, but you can also order pizza if you all want. I left forty dollars on the counter. Lindsey should be in bed by 10:15.”
“And Evan, will you come to my conference on Sunday?” Dad put a hand on Evan’s shoulder. “I really think you would find it interesting.”
“Yeah, sure Dad. I’ll go.”
Evan hugged his parents. They waved. Evan heard his mom’s heels clicking and the car chug away like 8AM factory.
Within three minutes, he received a text from Alex. He tried to think of what he would call the text. Disreputable? Reprehensible? Something with an rep and a ble.
Alex Are they gone?
Evan stared at the screen. The words faded in and out, bouncing, demanding eyes read them. Some dusty comet that disappears the moment it catches the eye. I won’t respond, Evan decided. But then the phone flashed again.
Alex Well I’m assuming they’re gone lol. I’ll be home soon.
Lindsey got home, followed by Alex. Evan began to feel anxious about all the older kids who’d storm through his house. Alex and a tall kid Walt who had a fake ID dragged beerboxes into the basement and set up a colorful Ikea lamp. Evan watched them, itching to tell them not to move his stuff. Words on the cusp of his mouth. Why? he thought, why does Alex always have to do things like this? He grunted and went upstairs to write dialogue for his Fire Emblem videogame hack.
He managed to rocket through a whole chapter of medieval war and chaos. His characters sung their poems: bold with purposes of war, glory, love, peace. The success inspired him. I need to tell him he can’t do this, Evan decided as he went into the kitchen. Alex was microwaving the leftover chicken and soup. Evan walked to the counter and hopped into the tall seat.
“Alex,” Evan said, “I don’t know about this party. What about Lindsey? Like is she just going to sit upstairs?”
Alex looked up as he fished out the food. “Of course. She’ll just be upstairs, dude. It won’t be a big deal.”
“Mom told us to play with her. What about when you’re being really loud at midnight?”
“We won’t be loud. Eat your chicken, bro.”
“No, I’m going to order pizza.” Evan got up.
“No no,” Alex said quickly. “I need that money. I gotta pay Walt back for the beer.”
“Take twenty. I get the other twenty.” Alex glared after Evan as he snatched the bill off the table. “Lindsey likes pizza too so she’ll be happy.”
“I just microwaved all this food!”
“I’ll eat it, don’t worry,” said Evan. “I’m going to run so I’ll be hungry later. Pizza party for me and Lindsey. Better than your party.”
“You’re not going to swing on down?” Alex asked as he took a bite of his own steamy plate. “Delectable,” he slurped.
“It’s going to be fun. You might know some people.”
“Doubt it.” He turned to Alex. “Just remember to turn down the music at 10:15. Lindsey’s ten, if you forgot.” He walked away before Alex could respond.
When he got to his room, images of a trashed house swarming in his head, he picked up his phone and dialed his mom’s number. The tone buzzed. Humming in space, squirming in Evan’s ear. She picked up.
“What is it? Is everything OK?”
“No, no, everything’s fine. It’s just that Alex…” He swallowed. “Oh, I remember now. I forgot where something was but I remember now. Never mind!”
He hung up and the dialtone rang emptily. Sighed. Playing with Lindsey will be fine, he thought. We’ll bake cookies. Chocolate chip cookies steaming with scoops of vanilla ice cream. And at 10:15 I’ll go down, tell him to turn it down. Make sure they haven’t burned the whole house down. And maybe I’ll try a drink.
Three hours later he sat with a halfeaten box of pizza in Lindsey’s room, berated by shouts clamors tremors from below. Volatile teenagers stormed like giants; cars screeched up and people rushed out. The house seemed like the center of a whirlpool of beer, flannel shirts and converse, fireball, cigarettes, chips and guac, clanging and clawing music, all spinning into Evan’s basement.
“I’ll go tell them to turn it down now,” Evan told her. “It’s past 10:15 and you need to go to bed.”
“I want to take a peek,” she said. She had her pajamas on and teeth brushed.
“No. You, small, dinky child, just need to go to bed.”
“Don’t call me dinky! You’re the one that smells bad.” Lindsey climbed under the covers. “I wish I could have had a party.”
“Maybe you can have one next weekend.”
Lindsey rubbed her nose. “That pizza smells bad.”
“Oh, sorry.” Evan grabbed the box and went to the doorway. “Good night.”
Evan turned off the lights and lightly shut the door. He munched pizza, listening to muted sounds trample up through the carpet. They better not make a mess, Evan thought. If they do I’m not helping clean. Why does Alex always have to do this to me? It’s like he’s got something to prove, needs to show off that he’s cool than me, having people over nonstop. But now it’s happening, too late to stop it. Least I can do is help Lindsey go to bed.
He rose, leaving crumby pizza box with open jaws on his bed. Upstairs remained empty and listless. Dull bursts of noise, like failed attempts to strike a match, simmered. Dark lightened as Evan hopped down stairs. Shoes and coats lay on the railing and carpet like scorned lovers, windbuffeted and strewn aside. He walked into the family room. Pizza, tortilla chips, pretzels, salsa, cookies in right hand (left hand busy cupholding) of teens trim and fit, flabby, lanky. A pair of juniors recognized Evan and waved him over. Evan said hi and grunted at the cigarette ash on the vase his mom had bought in China.
“Evan! Nice house. We were wondering where you were. Cookie?”
“No thanks, I’m good.”
“That’s very good.” The guy smiled and brushed aside black hair. “We’re chillin. Wanna smoke?”
Explosion of weedsmell, Evan thought. Smoke rips through the air. Smoke detector goes off, in come the cops. He stared at them. “We have a smoke detector.”
“My bad, I totally smoked a cigarette,” the other said. “But it didn’t go off.”
“I’m really good,” Evan said.
The guy shrugged. Maybe don’t smoke weed because of the neighbors, Evan tried to add, but the pair had already returned to their own conversation. That’s something else I need to tell Alex, he thought.
Evan examined the house as he aimed towards the basement. Dim lights, music still subdued, rooms not in complete disarray. Family room couch: all pillows present. Kitchen: plates thankfully tended to slip into sink, some solo cup waste but not bad. He opened the door to the basement staircase and found his path barred by two guys arguing.
“My fucking girlfriend?” one was saying. Thicker kid with inkling of a beard.
“Hey buddy,” the other one taller with more bump and swagger in his music to-and-fro sway, beer dangling in hand, “first off didn’t know it was your girlfriend.”
“You should’ve fucking known.”
“Second off, I think she kinda dug me.”
“The fuck did you say?”
“I said, ‘second off, I think…’” Evan dashed between their crossed arms into the red and blue lights of the basement. A pit had fallen from his neck to deep in his gut. ‘You should’ve known’ echoed in his head.
He looked into the basement. Maybe thirty bodies laughed and swayed in blasting music, unfamiliar rap with a rambling bass. Bodies dashing, grunting, climbing over couches and sitting on laps. Sweat mingled with colognes and danced. All these people in the basement, Evan thought. My basement. And my hack stuff… when was I drawing in here? Yesterday? All my stuff is somewhere down here and I forgot to clean any of it up.
He aimed towards the cabinets to check for his drawings and pencils but ran into two people he knew at the staircase bottom.
“Fir? Patrick? How’d you guys end up here?”
“Evan!” cried Fir, putting arms around him. “Everyone is wondering where you are.” Radiant teal eyes and wearing a flowery skirt, she set down a cup on a nearby table.
“Everyone? I hardly know anyone here,” he said. “What are you guys doing here?”
“Marco invited us,” Patrick said. Tall spiky-haired blonde, Radiohead tee, smiling mouth. “You know Marco, right?”
“Hm, I don’t.” Evan craned his neck to catch a glimpse of paper or Alex.
“Evan, you must have a drink,” declared Fir. “Try mine. It’s good!”
She held out the cup and Evan sipped. Cranberry sweet-tart, bitter aftertaste. “Is it cranberry juice?”
“And peach and vodka,” she replied. “Alex really got together a bar.”
Evan almost gagged as the vodka lathered and coated his throat. Now pumping somewhere inside. Inhibiting.
“That’s cool,” he said. “I wasn’t involved. All Alex.”
Fir and Patrick laughed. “He did well tonight,” Patrick said. “Hang on, you’re taking graphic design, aren’t you?”
Evan nodded. “Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash and the like.”
“Well, my buddy Carl needs a graphic designer for a website. Aren’t you good at that sort of thing?”
Evan shrugged. “I don’t really have any experience. I would definitely be down to give it a shot, but…”
“Well, if you think you’re interested, just let me know and I’ll shoot him a text.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Alex has such a good taste in music,” Fir commented as her shoulders swayed.
“It’s so true. Never met someone who liked everything I did plus more,” Patrick said.
“Huh,” Evan said. “Alex keeps trying to push his music on me. I mean—not push, just show. I’m probably being too closed about it. Actually, I need to find him now. See you guys later.”
They said see ya and Evan looked around for his brother but couldn’t see him. His eyes instead caught on the bottleswamped coffee table. Where I left a whole stack of drawings, he realized. And none of them are there. Shit. He glanced at the drinks. Cooler of beer, handles of vodka, one of rum, a bottle of wine, coke, sprite, arizona tea, fanta, peach juice. Evan felt the weights of them. One of the vodkas nearly empty. He glanced around and grabbed a beer. He took the opener and snapped it open—it fizzed and whiffed dull grimy scent at him. Blue blooming mountains depicted on the wraparound.
Evan took a drink. It was pretty tasteless. Just fuzzy and cold. He drank some more. Harmless? he thought. They’re just kids playing in some dingy rapslurred shuffle. But I told Lindsey I’d get people quiet. And where are my drawings? If they’ve ruined them… Evan pushed himself into a quick walk across the basement, finally noticing Alex by the speakers, standing in a small group.
“Evan!” called Alex. “No way! You’re a fraud, man. You’re not what we thought you were! I saw you drink that beer!”
Evan flushed. Alex’s friends smiled and watched as he approached.
“You need to turn the music down,” Evan said. “Lindsey can’t sleep. And what if the neighbors hear?”
“Oh shit, is it already 10:15?”
“Yeah”—Evan checked his phone—“almost 10:45. So keep it down. Also people said they were going to smoke weed in here so you should probably not let that happen.”
Alex stretched to the control and dialed down the music. “Weed is fine, bro. Just tell them to open a window.”
Evan’s gaze narrowed. “I was this close to calling mom and telling her about this,” he said.
Alex’s jaw dropped and he gave Evan a small shove. “No!” His rolling grin showed genuine shock. “You wouldn’t! You didn’t tell her, did you?”
“I was about to,” Evan repeated. “I didn’t. This is so stupid.”
“Don’t tell me that it’s not fun. You’re here now. You know it’s fun. Who cares if people smoke a little weed, drink a little beer? Lindsey’s really fine, so you shouldn’t be bummed about this, man.”
Evan rolled his eyes and opened his mouth but was outspoken by one of Alex’s friends.
“So Evan,” he called. “You smoke weed?”
“No,” Alex said, “he doesn’t need to. He’s more creative than the rest of us without. Drawing, writing, designing, you name it.”
Evan frowned at Alex and pointed his eyes at a red paper light.
“Is that this shit then?” a voice said. Longhaired guy approached and shoved crumpled papers into Evan’s face. Pencil sketches—intricate maps, rivers, fictional cities names. Rows of calculations—character stats. My Fire Emblem stuff, Evan thought, blushing. Fuck.
“What the hell is it?”
“It’s for a story,” Evan said. “Can I have it?”
“Master of fiction, huh?” The kid held it out, chuckling as Evan took it.
Evan shoved it deep into pockets.
“Irigoy,” the guy snorted in a French accent. “Is that a type of douche?”
“Tim, shut the fuck up,” Alex said, turning as someone shouldertapped him.
“Do you paint as well?” asked a pretty longhaired girl. “Would you paint me something?” In a tank with dangling silver earrings aside a heart-shaped face. Evan noticed and averted eyes from swelling breast in black bra curving out her tank’s side.
“Ooh, she’s into you,” jeered one.
“Stop it,” she said with a smiling gaze. “He’s a sophomore. I just want a painting.”
“Paint me like one of your French girls, Evan!”
“Get him trashed and you like a French girl and then we’ll see what sorta painting comes out.”
Evan felt his face heat as speech and laughter blasted about him. He looked to Alex but he was laughing hard and scrolling through music on his iPod and something grungy came on, screeching. Was alcohol getting to Evan? The world spun and tossed. Bodies crowded, lights dimmed, voices lashed. Someone spilled a cup—“Fucking kidding me?” cried Alex and Evan stepped back, people pouring more shots and two kissed and moved hands redhot in the corner and Alex turned the music back up and Evan fled without a word, silently up the staircase and away.