Evan tied the shoe laces of his old shoes angrily that there was no way he could replace them, not the way he was. He needed money and his dad wasn’t going to give him that. He hated his dad. There was one more person he hated less than him and that was his mom who had left them when he was eight.
His dad lay on the sofa as his dirty clothes piled around the house. He stank of cheap whiskey and a week’s worth of sweat. No wonder mom had left him. A bottle of whiskey lay shattered under his feet. The whole room was going to smell like it. Evan cringed his nose at the thought of it. His dad scratched his scraggly chest hair. When Evan reached the door, his dad called out to him.
“What is it?” asked Evan not wanting to stay even a minute around his father.
“Give me some money!” his dad said raising his voice. Maybe if he had asked politely he’d have given. But politeness was not something his dad had. Disgustedly Evan handed over some money to his dad. There was no other choice or he’d keep asking him and scolding him till his ears felt like they needed to be pulled apart and his head felt like he needed to bang it on his crumbling wooden desk where he did all his work.
“Is this all?” his dad asked as if it was his rightful property. Evan left before he would feel like slapping his dad the same way he had been slapped. He still remembered being whipped with a belt and beaten every single day of his childhood since his mother had left. The hits he had taken were a tattoo of scars on his chest and his back for anyone to see. He didn’t want to be his father.
School hadn’t been good to him, this was the final year and then he’d leave this bunch of bullies and snobs who taunted him and jeered at him for what his dad was and also for the same old patched up clothes he wore, that he had patched up himself with a needle and a thread.
They knew his dad. Everyone in town knew who his dad was. He was the town drunkard and a gambler who had lost his wife. Everyone said and thought his son would be just like him and turned away their faces in disgust whenever he passed by them.
Altogether Evan was the sum of an unloved person. Betrayed the love of his father and mother and everyone else’s, he had become stone hearted in some ways towards these people. Although there was side to him that only one or two people knew about and they appreciated him and loved him for it.
He sat in the class behind the girl who he had saved when she was seven from a deadly cycle accident injuring himself and had ended up with a few broken bones. The girl had only sustained some small scratches and bruises. The girl had looked at him and cried when her parents had come to take her and he had received nothing but scolding’s for hurting their daughter and that was the last time he had ever looked at the girl straight in the face. He had sometimes caught himself watching her across the hall with the other girls.
Now that he was seventeen, they were not only different but belonged to two different worlds. She was the popular girl and he was the town beggar, or that was what the people called him even though he earned his little money working honestly in a garage as a mechanic where the owner was kind enough to let him. He received a meal and a little cash. He was satisfied with it.
The girl’s name was Olivia. After the classes, Evan watched as the basketball champ of the school came by and said something and Olivia laughed. The guy hugged her and left with another girl. Evan shook his head for getting carried away by a girl. She was nothing to him. Yet in some way, she was the only one that fascinated him. Other girls seemed like dried up brown leaves compared to her.
She caught his eye and Evan fumbled out of school. He didn’t need more complications in his life. His life was worse as it was.
He needed to clear his head so he headed towards the town’s old age home like he had done for years now. The old men and women smiled at the sight of him there. At least some one was glad to see me, thought Evan happily and wished them a good evening with a big smile. He guided Mrs. Millar toward her room, she had arthritis so he pushed her in a wheel chair and she let him go once they reached the room.
This was his sanctuary. This place felt like his home not that alcohol smelling litter of a place his dad and he lived in. He wouldn’t leave these people to their own even if they wanted to. He liked to help them and take care of them. The caretakers greeted him by name as he passed by, he reciprocated. They knew him well. Almost everyone knew his name here. No one called him a drunkard’s son. A few of the old people had once even told him that his parents must be lucky to have a son like him, Evan had nodded with a smile on his face but bitterness inside his heart.
Afterwards when his free time was up, he was at the garage covered in machine oil and sweat. Not that he was expecting it, but trouble seemed to follow him everywhere.
And trouble came in a car with Olivia. The jock sat beside her, his hands on the wheel, wearing an expensive leather jacket that Evan didn’t even dream of having. It stopped in front of him. Olivia didn’t look at anyone but outside the window at nothing. She looked angry and frustrated. The boy tried to kiss her but she pushed him away and he lost his cool and slapped her. Evan would’ve watched and done nothing if it was just someone throwing taunts at him. But this was a girl and no guy had the right to hit a girl. Olivia was crying. She got out of the car and ran towards the restroom near the garage not wanting to show anyone that she was hurt.
As soon as the guy got out of the car, Evan planted a punch on his face like never before. No one had seen him fight, he didn’t want to fight or beat up anyone. That was what his dad did.
“What the hell is wrong with you man, bloody beggar,” shouted the guy trying to land a hit on Evan, who sidestepped and planted a fist in the guy’s stomach, sending him to ground. Coughing and spitting blood, the jock got up and ran to his car, tried to start it, fumbling with keys. The car’s engine did not start until after three tries and then the car was gone, leaving a cloud of smoke behind it. Evan looked at his fist. Maybe he needed to do this more. Probably not, he thought as he remembered the example of what ended up as his dad. He promised himself he would try not to fight again.
When Olivia returned Evan stood by the end of the garage busy working on the car that had been there for days now. Olivia would never know what had passed. That was good thing, he thought.
Olivia looked around trying to spot her boyfriend’s car but he had left and she knew that. Olivia saw Evan. She walked to him. Evan turned as she came. She had never seen him up so close. Olivia was surprised at what she was seeing. So many years being in the same class and this guy sitting behind her, she must have been blind. The way he had beaten up her boyfriend had made her boyfriend look like a sissy in front of Evan. Her boyfriend didn’t deserve her, she needed to break up with him and she decided she would, as soon as she would thank Evan.
“Hey,” she said trying to smile.
“What do you want?” asked Evan showing no hint of a smile or happiness.
“I saw what you did.”
“Then you must also know that I’m not going to apologize to you or anyone for that, so please be free to leave me alone,” Evan said and got back to working on the car’s engine.
Olivia was surprised by his reply. Of course he’d be angry, they hadn’t exactly treated him that well. She remembered him well, the boy who had saved her. The only boy who had the guts to save her among all those boys that had been there that day. She had cried because she hadn’t known what to do. She had wanted to tell her parents, but she had been quiet when they scolded him. She had felt like hell for some days after that. And now here he was again, saving her from the worst. Why did everyone think badly of him? She knew he was the son of the town drunk, but he didn’t deserve this. She wanted to tell him that and also tell him she’d like to be his friend, but maybe that was a little too much beyond her grasp but she couldn’t help but try.
“How do I go home?” she asked Evan who was still tinkering inside the car with a spanner.
“Walk, you’ve got legs,” he said still working on the car.
“Will you walk me home?” she asked.
That got a reaction. Evan turned and looked at her as if she had gone mad.
“Alright don’t. I’m sorry I asked,” she said and walked away.
Only Evan was not that big of douche bag, he let the manager know that he was leaving early and left.
She was already on the road when he reached her. She was surprised to see him walking with her.
“Save it. I just needed some exercise. Walking wouldn’t hurt, even if it’s with you,” he said.
Olivia smiled inside herself because she knew Evan was willingly walking her home. That was all that she had to be satisfied about. As they walked towards her house, Evan kept his distance with his hands in his pockets. There was a silence between them that they didn’t try to break. At last, when they were in front of her house, she wanted to tell him something anything but before any of that he turned and left. Dejected, Olivia went inside her home cursing herself and her friends for having made fun of him from as long as she could remember.
Olivia couldn’t sleep that night, too much fantasizing was going on in her mind. She imagined the curves of Evan’s body, how his chest and the muscles under his clothes heaved when he walked, how she would feel touching him. She was not thinking straight she knew, but maybe because there was something similar about him and her that she hadn’t wanted to admit for long. Maybe she had always wanted to talk to him and get to know him. Maybe this was it.
Evan didn’t like it. He didn’t understand why he had walked her home. He regretted it. Maybe it was another one their pranks on him. He wanted to hate her. He hated the school that he was sure of. The door to the house was open like always when he entered through it to find his dad sleeping peacefully on sofa like a normal person. Normal? Dad wasn’t that normal. He’d fall asleep only after consuming alarming quantities of liquor and that too half on the sofa and half on the floor. There was something wrong about the normality, so he went to see his dad. There was a small bottle of tablets with a small paper under it. Ignoring them, Evan shook his dad to bring him back to consciousness, he didn’t even grumble. This was how it was with the liquor. Still a small seed of doubt was growing in his mind. He turned and checked what those tablets were. They were of some weird colors like none he had seen. They stank of fish and garbage he thought. They weren’t your normal headache pills. Evan worried, checked his father’s pulse, first by holding his wrist when he heard nothing, he thought it was a mistake and placed his head on his dad’s chest and once again there was no pulse but only the outer sounds of the wind that guaranteed heavy rain for that day. His dad was dead finally. First he thought he’d feel happy about it, it had been his long held wish since childhood. But then he realized he didn’t care about that anymore. He wasn’t happy or sad.
He opened the piece of paper and read it.
I know I haven’t been a good father. I know you regret me. I know and remember every single thing I’ve ever done to you and regret it. It’s laughable that I’ll be dead now when you’re reading this. Maybe you’ll be happy and say good riddance or maybe you’ll be sad, I don’t know. I loved your mother so much and so dearly. But she had her dreams, I let her go. Maybe I shouldn’t have, I don’t know now, it’s too late. I thought you were burden, a punishment. I realized as you grew that I could not have asked for a better son than you. I love you son. I know I’ve never said that but I do. I can’t change what I am and I regret it. Even then I know I’ll always keep treating you the same. I wanted to do this long before, but I was too scared, too much of a coward. You wouldn’t have suffered. I know now that I would’ve been better off dead and so I’ve taken this step. I know what people say to you son. Maybe now, you’ll be free, for this old man has lived for nothing. But son, I want you to live, find a good girl, maybe marry her and have children and treat them like diamonds. Don’t ever become what I’ve become. If you ever find love, hold on to it tightly and never let go because I needed it more than anything.
Goodbye. Forgive me if you will but I don’t ask you this because I don’t deserve it and I know it in my heart.”
When Evan finished reading it, he felt sorry for his dad. His dad could’ve been a good man. Only there was no one to show him the way. There was no love in his life. He didn’t try to find it because he had loved mom too much. Only she didn’t care about him anymore. It brought tears to Evan’s eyes not because it was his father but because here lay a man in front of him who had tried but failed each step of his life because he had lost love once and never found it again. Would Evan also turn out the same way? Evan wondered. The words in the letter echoed inside his heart and his mind. He would never forget them. Would he forgive his father? Perhaps, in time, he would because his father had repented for his mistakes.
Evan called 911 and told them that his dad had died. They came pronounced his dad dead and took him for post mortem. Questions were asked, condolences were given and then they were all gone. Suddenly the house felt hollow and empty. He tried to sleep but sleep never came until it was almost morning.
* * *
Everyone in school had got the news of Evan’s father’s death and they looked at him in pity. The jock didn’t speak or taunt him when he saw Evan. He just nodded and left. It was strange and surreal because he had never ever been respected anywhere. Not one of the students gave him dirty looks or talked about him behind his back or jeered at him or called him a beggar.
Olivia was there, she walked to Evan.
“I’m sorry about your father,” she said. He could care the least, he pushed past the students and sat in the class, half concentrating and half lost in thought. The contents of the letter kept taunting him like the taunts he had received throughout his life. There was something his dad had said that bothered him.
Whenever he thought of that, he was distracted by Olivia turning and looking at him with sympathy in her eyes. Evan glared at her. Funny, how everything was. The popular girl of the school, showing kindness towards the school beggar. That would be a new taunt he was sure, after the news of his father’s death wore off.
Still he saw something genuine in her eyes. Affection? He didn’t understand it. He was confused. He didn’t want to think too much about anything. So after school, he went to the old people. They were kinder than they usually were, saying how sorry they were and the usual condolences. He didn’t mind. He wasn’t that much affected by his father’s death. It felt like something that must’ve happened a long time and had been long overdue, like a long dead volcano suddenly erupting, drowning a city in its ashes.
Surprisingly he also found Olivia there. He felt like an intruder had come into his life, stealing his privacy.
Olivia turned and came to him, “The old people have told me so much about you. You are the most amazing person in the world that is quoting their own words.”
“What do you think about me?” asked Evan.
“What? Me? What I think doesn’t seem to be so important to you, so it’s the same if I answer or if I don’t. God, a statue would be a better person to talk to than you,” she said moving but she slipped and Evan caught her. And somehow in that moment, their eyes met and they held each other for a long time. Something changed in those few seconds that they shared. Evan’s face softened to be something sweeter than his usual scowling face. Olivia steadied herself and Evan let his arms drop as they had been holding her waist.
“I have work here, I need to go,” Evan said and left Olivia standing there in that room. There were butterflies in her stomach. For the first time she felt something more than just attraction. The beginning of something she didn’t want to name because names are too simple and inaccurate when describing such things.
* * *
As days passed Evan saw Olivia almost every day at the old age home. She’d come and talk and help the people. It seemed to his that people there had started to like Olivia more than him. But then again, she could be as charming and beautiful as she came.
She’d talk and talk and Evan would listen, replying if he had to. She didn’t mind if he didn’t reply, she knew Evan was trying. She had realized long ago when she had come here the first time that Evan was not much of a social person outside this place. She liked him more than any boy she had talked to throughout her life. She’d sometimes catch Evan staring at her at school and smile at him. Evan would just look away like he always did.
Evan on the other hand was not accustomed to affection and that too from a girl. It was weird for him. He had realized after listening to Olivia’s long talks that he had no idea what went on outside his world, which was usually summed up by waking, eating, working, sleeping and then the cycle repeated again almost every day. He’d sometimes forget to listen to what Olivia talked and just look at her. Her cherry red lips, her small nose and her blue eyes. He could see her face if he closed his eyes to remember it. As for her other characteristics, she’d stand out in a crowd of thousands, easily.
Olivia loved to come to the garage in her car with an excuse that her car was giving her trouble. She’d get to see him there. Evan would just stare at her smiling.
“What are you doing here Olivia?”
“It’s my car.”
“Of course,” he’d say. Because he had understood that Olivia was not playing a prank on him. Sometimes he wondered, what made this girl to come to him every day.
Evan loved to see her sketching in her notebook with her hair tied in a bun with a funny expression on her face like she knew what she was doing. She’d always show him her sketches and ask how they were. He’d be surprised every time he saw one of them. The way she drew the people and places and things all mixed up, making it look like an abstract painting. She was very good with the colors. Maybe she’d become an artist someday, he thought.
And then one day he heard Olivia singing for the old guys and girls there, that’s what Olivia liked to call them. She said it made them feel young again. Maybe she was right, they did seem happier than usual. Some of them there had been abandoned by their children and some of them were there by choice. And all seemed to adore her.
What was Evan’s sanctuary was now Olivia’s too, she’d spend a lot of time in it.
Evan wanted to be jealous but he felt happy. She sang brilliantly. Now that he thought of it, she seemed like a creative kind of a person. She had so many ideas. Evan didn’t say he didn’t want to listen to them but mostly he used to think that his head would explode if he ever wanted to remember them again.
Olivia liked to hug Evan. She’d hug him, every chance she got. Every time he complimented her, she’d jump into his arms.
Evan felt how free Olivia was, like an eagle in the sky with some goal or the other in mind. Sometimes he thought she had too much energy inside her and those were the times when she’d be most jumpy.
They shared their first kiss one day sitting on the park bench. It was Evan’s first too. He savored the taste of her lips on his.
Olivia didn’t care anymore about what people thought. Her dad was sometimes annoying. Her mom was not there, she had died when she had been about nine. Whether Olivia realized it or not, that is what connected both of them together, they had never felt a mother’s love. Of course Olivia had felt a father’s but Evan wasn’t lucky enough. His mother was a news reporter in a famous channel now. She had started sending him some money in a white envelope ever since his father had died. If she called, Evan didn’t talk or just ignored the call. She was married now and had two children of her own. That was something he had read on the internet when searching for his school project when he had got side tracked by his mother’s name on the news page. Other than that his life had changed for good.
As they grew up, they broke up several times after some petty fights and some serious ones. But they somehow ended up together every time.
Both of them married each other at the age of thirty two and they lived happily ever after would be quite inaccurate. They had their differences, they had their fights but in the end they knew they loved each other, more than anything else in the world.