The Things We Can't Change Part One: The Prologue
Evie, I love you baby, I’d never do anything to hurt you. I love you so much, I’d die without you, Evie.
I scrub furiously at my hands, the words echoing through my mind, whirling round and round in a furious maelstrom, until his voice is all I can hear, the lies consuming me, filling my mind.
Ah, come on, Evie, you know you want to, I swear I’ll make it good for you.
Memories assault me next, shapes and blurs more than actual images; a dark, looming presence right above me, countless times where my wrists are grabbed, stinging pain that seems to tear me apart from the inside out. It’s all disgusting and repulsive, and I scrub harder at my hands. They’re feeling raw now, bright pink under the hot water, but still I go on.
Don’t do this, baby, I swear, I’ll never do it again, I’ll never lay a hand on you like that again. Please don’t leave me, if you leave I’ll kill myself, I can’t live without you, I swear I can’t.
“GET OFF!” I scream, water flying everywhere as I violently pull my hands out of the water stream and shake them, rub them together fast and hard. The towel wrapped around me starts to loosen, and I grab at it, tears stinging my eyes. My hands fist in it, and my feet slip on the slick bathroom floor. I stumble, grab the edge of the sink and fall in a sort of slow tumble, landing on my right hip on the floor. I huddle there, pull the towel more securely around me, choke on my tears.
I stare at my legs, and even though the blood is gone, I can still see it. A river down my inner thigh, streaked on my hands from trying to stop it, from trying to clean it. I had cleaned it, but in my mind’s eye, it’s still there, still so glaringly visible. There’s no more anywhere on my fresh, pink-from-scrubbing body, but I can still feel it, still somehow see exactly where it was.
It’s seeped into my pores, down in the layers of my skin. It’s been absorbed, deep down, back into my bloodstream. But now it’s poisoned blood, black and dark, floating along back toward my heart, where it will stay for the rest of my life, forever haunting me.
I’m still clean and normal on the outside, but my inside is forever changed.
Acting the part of the badass would be a lot easier if I had something more impressive than the side of a high school to lean against. A motorcycle, or maybe a classic Camaro. As it is, those things are so far out of the realm of my life, I don’t even dream about them. Not really, at least. Instead, to keep up my image, I take one last drag on my cigarette and then toss it to the ground, grinding it beneath the heel of my battered steel-toed boots.
I look up toward the school building and instantly meet eyes with Evangeline Parker. For a long moment, we stare each other down, polar opposites, the queen bee of Grandview Heights High School literally looking down her nose at the poorest, lowliest person on the social ladder. Her eyes are a startling violet color, and my fingers get the old itch. I banish it instantly. I don’t do that anymore.
Instead, I sneer at Evie, and she tips her nose up even further at me. Before I can make any kind of move, to maybe scare her a little, just because it’s early and I have nothing better to do, her knight in shining armor appears. Anthony Stull, Evie’s boyfriend of three years, swoops in, every bit her equal; it’s fate, pre-destined, written in the stars. Tony and Evie are probably the two richest kids at school. Tony is the offspring of some hotshot lawyers and already has his name written on the Harvard acceptance list, while Evie’s father owns several pediatric clinics.
I can already see exactly how their lives will unfold: they’ll go to college, spend ten years getting degrees in medicine and law, only to graduate, have their parents die, and live off the lay of the land, dabbling in their parents’ businesses but not actually working. Tony will have some raging affairs with hookers and prostitutes, while Evie will pretend not to know that ‘staying late at the office’ really means he’s banging some chick. She’ll slowly fade, put all her focus on her children. Eventually, they may divorce, or she may cut off his dick. I’m not sure about that part, but I can see it all, and it’s yawn-inducingly predictable.
Tony is Evie’s knight in shining armor, rushing in to carry her off in his silver BMW any time she cries for help. He walks through school with his arm over her shoulders, carries her books, the smug smile on his face saying he knows he has the hottest girl in school and daring anyone to contest it. Sometimes I wonder, when I find myself thinking about life a little too deeply, whether he actually likes Evie, or just the status that they have together.
This time, when he swoops in and throws an arm around Evie and tries to kiss her on her cheek, I notice how her shoulders stiffen and she almost pulls away, but at the last minute she restrains herself and allows Tony to lay a wet one on her cheek. He begins to whisper in her ear, and I’m the only one who can see Evie’s face. It’s drawn tight, her lips pinched together and her whole body still stiff, as if she can’t stand to have Tony so close to her. I even see her fingers, clutching the strap of her designer purse, trembling, just a little bit.
Finally, Tony manages to convince Evie to come away with him and they turn toward the school, but not before they both glance back at me, matching expressions of repulsion on their faces. I don’t give a crap. I’d rather die than try to get their approval, and if my appearance keeps everyone at a distance, all the better.
I wish Tony luck holding onto Evie, because if there is one thing I already know well about life, it’s that everything you care for always gets taken from you. And that’s that.
I jerk at the sound of my last name and look around until I see Dominic, my closest friend since the third grade, walking up toward me. He takes his time, probably hampered by the fact that his black jeans keep falling down over his butt and he has to keep one hand on his belt, looking like he’s walking with a mean swag, but really to keep the pants up in the front. His skin is a dark roast compared to my more coffee-with-cream tone, and he looks the part, with a Black Pyramid hat over his buzzed head, hiding the intricate designs shaved into his hair. He has on a baggy white t-shirt, and the only thing ruining his look is the backpack on his shoulders, loaded with books.
I give him the nod and fall into step behind him, my own battered, literally-light-from-over-washing jeans belted loosely, but tightly enough so they don’t fall down over the curve of my ass. I have on an OSU hoodie, but it’s a little faded and gray, not red. My boots make a loud thumps on the sidewalk, competing for noise against the occasional squeak from Dominic’s much newer basketball Jordans.
We attract surreptitious looks as we walk down the hallway, and while I know a lot of the disdainful ones are because of our clothes, there are quite a few girls who stare more openly at us as we walk by. Still, no one confronts us, because we look the part. I’m the only person who knows the black tear tattooed on Dominic’s left cheek is the result of a drunken dare two years ago, not a summer spent in juvie (he was actually at his grandma’s, helping restore her house). My own tattoos are mostly hidden by my long sleeves, but my Chris Brown/Rihanna style stars trailing up my neck, into my hairline and around to my right ear are visible, as are both the large diamond studs in my ears.
It always amazes me, what old, baggy clothes, some tattoos, and a darker skin color can cause people to think about you. I’ve never cared. All I want is to keep people at a distance, and so letting them judge me and write me off is exactly what I want.
At the end of the hallway is our usual crowd, and Cameron Fuller is heading the group, like always. Cameron has done time in juvie, and he’s a mean sonofabitch, but he doesn’t scare me. He’s knows that and it’s always caused a little bit of tension between the two of us, but I have no desire to lead his little pack of misfits and puppy dogs. I have a crowd to stand with in the morning and look tough, and that’s all I wanted.
“Quain, Alverson.” Cameron greets us as we walk up, and Dominic and I both nod at him.
I resume my stance standing against the wall of the school, one foot propped up and resting against the interior bricks. I’m hoping it can be a peaceful morning and everyone will leave everyone else alone, but clearly that’s not meant to be.
“You joining us after school today, Ezekiel?” Cameron asks, and I want to roll my eyes. How much more juvenile can you get, trying to humiliate someone by calling them by their full name?
“For what?” I ask, keeping my stance light and easy against the wall.
Something white and black flies through the air, making metallic clicking noises as it turns over and over, and I catch it reflexively. I know what it is even before I look down. A can of spray paint.
“Bridge on Riverside. Your marks are fading, I thought we could retouch it later tonight,” Cameron says. “Celebrate having only a few months left before summer break.”
I toss the can back to Cameron. “Can’t. I have plans.”
He raises his eyes. “Plans without us? Found someone more fun to play with?”
Dominic senses the rising tension between the two of us and lets out a big snort of laughter. “If you call babysitting his kid sister fun, then yeah, I would say so.”
Everyone lets out a loud chorus of laughter at the idea of Zeke Quain babysitting, and even though I hate being laughed at, I’m glad Dominic was the one to say it. I’m not able to have that sarcastic tone where Cindy is concerned.
“You get off kid duty early, you know where to find us,” Cameron says, pointing at me with his finger. “We’ll keep a cold one ready for you.”
I nod that I understand, though I hate being pointed at like a child. Everything about Cameron rubs me the wrong way, but I put up with it because I don’t care enough to start a fight. Just as I’m thinking no way in hell will I meet up with them tonight, no matter how early Cindy is done at practice, the warning bell rings. We all groan at the thought of class and begin to separate ways. Dominic and I head for the closest flight of stairs.
As we walk, we pass Evie Parker and Tony Stull again, and my eyes can’t help but be drawn to Evie’s. My fingers itch to pick up a pencil every time I see her, she has such a classic face; full red lips, Marilyn Monroe beauty mark on her left cheek, high cheekbones, and those eyes, feline with the unique violet color. I squash the urge, just as Evie looks my way and our eyes meet.
I’m struck by how empty they look. Normally, Evangeline Parker looks like she doesn’t have a care in the world, or she’s frowning down her nose at me. Right now, though, she looks as if she has the weight of the world on her shoulders, and she doesn’t have a hope left.
Something stirs inside me; sympathy? Pity? I squash it as ruthlessly as I push down the urge to draw, and just because she’s made me feel emotion, emotion of any kind, I wink and smile at her, and Tony sees. Both of them look horrified, and the last I see of Evie right then is Tony’s arm tightening around her, keeping her safe as he rushes her away down the hall, away from the ugliness of the world that consists of people like me.