Authors: Reece Evhans
THE STERN AND WILD ONES
By Reece Evhans
For Lyle, who showed incredible patience and support while I wrote this. And for my mother, who never refused to buy me a book.
Table of Contents
“She had wandered, without rule or guidance, into a moral wilderness... Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods... The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers—stern and wild ones—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”
The Scarlet Letter
N. Scott Momaday, "The Man Made of Words"
I can’t really tell you the best place to have your first psychic vision. I can, however, tell you the worst. That would be in 7
period English 11. Veronica Albluth was droning on about
The Scarlet Letter
at the front of the room and I was minding my own business, doodling in my notebook and mostly tuning her out when my core body heat suddenly skyrocketed. My hands began trembling so violently I couldn’t hold my pen. Some of the other students began fanning themselves with notebooks and papers while our teacher, Ms. Gonzalez, leapt up from her desk and started to mess with the thermostat, punching buttons randomly and muttering under her breath. Veronica kept right on babbling through it all, even though no one was listening to her anymore. I dropped my forehead to the cool surface of my desk to avoid passing out and hoped no one could hear me groaning. Through the buzzing in my ears I’m nearly certain I heard someone say they thought I was going to hurl.
“Hey, are you ok?”
came a male voice from behind me.
I think I nodded, but
I'm not sure because he suddenly called out to the teacher, interrupting the presentation, "Hey, Ms. Gonzalez! I think Ally needs to go to the nurse." Then he was prying me out of my desk and toward the front of the classroom. I have a fuzzy memory of a pink hall pass being shoved into the guy's hand and then I was being propelled out of the classroom, down the hall toward the nurse's office.
At this point I finally gathered my scattered wits/senses/whatever, stopped in m
y tracks, swayed a bit, and shrugged out of his hold. "I'm fine. I don't need to go to the nurse. I just need a bathroom." I steadied myself with a hand against the brick wall, trying to refocus my vision.
"Ok," the guy said as he scrutinized me a bit too closely for comfort. It was Jack Ruiz, who
sits behind me in English and is also in my physics class. He was new this year and seemed to keep pretty much to himself, but when I walked into this class the first day of school I had noticed him in the back row with an empty seat in front of him. I didn’t stop to analyze, but immediately eschewed sitting in the front of the room like a good little nerd and instead opted to sit in front of the new guy that everyone else seemed to be avoiding, perhaps due to his classic bad boy look, complete with leather jacket, tattoo, and scowl. Plopping bravely down in front of him was, however, was the only move I had made. This, so far, was the extent of our relationship: me sitting in front of him, occasionally turning around to pass papers back, him occasionally muttering “thanks”. That’s it.
"There's a bathroom at the end of C Hall. I'll wait for you and make sure you're ok.
You could pass out in there and hit your head on a sink or something. We don’t want you turning the girl’s bathroom into a scene from Dexter. Come on." This time he simply ushered me to the bathroom.
As I stared at myself in the grease-smudged mirror above the girl's bathroom sink, I thought back to what had happened in class. Snotty Veronica Albluth had been presenting
her essay in front of the class, prosing on about how
The Scarlet Letter
was really a re-telling of Adam and Eve and the consequences of sin, while I was thinking that she was just repeating what she had skimmed from Wikipedia. Suddenly, my vision blurred around the edges and Veronica’s voice faded as a buzzing in my ears grew louder. I glanced up and zoomed in on the shiny, red belt Veronica was wearing around her rich-girl thin waist and the classroom disappeared.
Veronica was leaning against a bathroom vanity, staring at her cellphone, which was running a timer app. The clock hit 0:00 and she took a deep breath, turned around picked up the white plastic stick lying on the counter.
After staring at it for a few seconds, she turned and flung it in the trashcan. It landed on about 4 or 5 identical white sticks, each one sporting a little pink plus sign in its window. She crumpled to the ground and started sobbing.
I wish I could tell you that nothing like this has ever happened, but that would be a
bold-faced lie. Although I have had these really weird, strong feelings off and on for most of my life (it actually runs in the family), this was the clearest, strongest episode I have ever experienced. I felt like I was actually
in the bathroom with Veronica. I heard her cry and I felt her sink down to the bathmat, almost as if it were happening to me. I didn't like the feeling at all. For one thing, it made snotty Veronica seem almost human. I don't want to feel sorry for her--it's so much easier to dislike her for everything she stands for: rich, privileged teenagers who have nothing more to worry about than what color BMW their daddy will buy them and OMG it better have seat-warmers! And now she's pregnant, which didn't come as a huge shock to me given that she's constantly wrapped around some guy in the hallways. Her current boyfriend, Danny Burkhart, is on the football team, the quarterback, I think, which completes the stereotype perfectly since she is a cheerleader.
The funny thing is, Veronica and I had been friends once. Back in elementary school we had lived next door to each other and spent hours at each other's houses, mostly playing Barbies. My Barbies were always
setting off on great adventures and solving mysteries, while hers were hooking up with Ken and having babies. She moved away when her mom divorced her dad and got remarried to a lawyer.
Ok--time to pull myself together and slink out of this bathroom to face Jack. If he's even waiting for me. He most likely lost interest and retreated back to class. I splashed water on my face and tried vainly to tame my obnoxious, curly red hair and walked out into the hallway. To my surprise, Jack was leaning against the wall with his hands in his pockets, staring at the
ground. He looked up and smiled slightly at me, one corner of his attractive mouth inching higher than the other. His big, nearly black eyes were full of concern as he asked, "You feeling better? I thought maybe you were gonna puke all over the place back there."
Perfect. Just what I want him to
think of in conjunction with me: the girl who looked like she was going to puke. "No, I'm fine. I just needed to get away from the Wikipedia re-hash. Thanks for the escape," and I tried to scoot by him.
He laughed a bit under his breath and reached out
, gently grabbing my arm as I passed. "Hey, don't run off. You looked really upset. I want to make sure you're all right. Besides, Ms. Gonzalez thinks we're at the nurse. No need to rush back for more coma-inducing book reports. I'm Jack, by the way. Jack Ruiz." He pulled me directly in front of him and again examined my face. An intoxicating aroma wafted to me from his warm skin; a sort of warm, spicy scent that instantly became my new favorite. I might have swayed toward him just a bit.
"Yeah, I know, Jack. I've been handing your papers back all semester."
I struggled to sound unaffected.
He nodded. "You still look really pale, Ally. And you seem a bit unsteady. Sure you're not gonna puke?"
Really? Why me, God? I stood up straight and gently shrugged off his hand. "Yes. I just had a, uh... a moment. I'm ok. Thanks for getting me out of there." His dark eyes looked just like melted dark chocolate. Life is so not fair. On the bright side, he actually knows my name--I wouldn't have bet on that. I'm not the kind of girl who stands out (well, except for the crazy red hair) or attracts much attention. I'm short and small, wear really plain clothes, and I don't say very much at school. I have a few good friends and we pretty much just fly below the radar and try to stay out of the limelight. I like it that way. High school seriously sucks and I just want to get through it quietly and without a lot of drama. Please, God, life will be better in college.
"So, this is gonna sound pretty weird," Jack started hesitantly, " but, uh, when it got really hot in the classroom, it, well it kinda felt like it was, uh, emanating from you." He laughed once, quietly. "That's crazy, huh?"
Wow. Did he just use the word "emanating" in a sentence? Who does that? I mean, in high school? I wonder what he got on his ACT? I had always had the sense that there was more to him than meets the eye, and this cemented that feeling.
"Yeah, that sounds kinda weird. I mean, I just felt really hot and dizzy for a minute. Maybe flu or something. But I'm not going to throw up, I promise." I couldn't quite meet his gaze. I'm terrible at lying and I felt like he knew it. When I looked up I saw that he was
staring at me with raised eyebrows and patent disbelief. Just then the bell rang (saved by the... well, you know) ending the day. I started to head back to the classroom, fighting upstream against the deluge of students eager to escape another day of American compulsory education.
He caught up with me easily. "How 'bout we grab our stuff and I walk you to your car? Unless you have practice or something? I just want to make sure you're really ok."
I appreciated the sweetness of the offer and any other time would have jumped at the chance to spend more time with the gorgeous Jack Ruiz. But today I needed to get away by myself to process what had happened. "No, I don't have practice or anything, and if by car you mean bus stop, that's ok. I really am fine." We were at our classroom door and Veronica breezed out, stopping very briefly to give me a haughty stare before turning abruptly away.
"Jeez," said Jack, watching her march away. He turned back to me, and with a rather stubborn look on his face said, "I'm not entirely convinced that you're feeling well enough to be alone, and you wouldn't let me take you to the nurse, so the least you can do is let me drive you home. I don't want you passing out on the bus." He steered me into the classroom, grabbed his notebook and backpack, and stood by while I packed up my stuff. Then he held out his hand, motioning to my backpack.
"I can at least carry my own backpack," I argued, recognizing that I had lost the battle of the bus.
He just shook his head, so I
surrendered it to him with a sigh and he hefted it over his shoulder. He didn't appear the least bit phased to be toting a bright pink bag as he guided me out of the classroom, stopping briefly to explain to Ms. Gonzalez that I was feeling much better. I felt quite overwhelmed by this take-charge attitude (it was pretty sexy--not gonna lie) so I meekly followed.
I was really surprised to find myself chatting amiably with him on the way to the student parking lot. We shared our complete lack of school spirit or interest in extracurricular activities and arrived at his car in just a few minutes. We may never have conversed before, but once we got the ball rolling, it turned out that we had lots to talk about. His car was a grey primered-looking thing, probably something classic--I don't know--that was surprisingly nice on the inside.
He unlocked and held open the passenger door for me saying, "I'm gonna be painting it pretty soon. I thought the inside was more important to restore first." He looked adorably unsure of himself for just a moment.
"It's really nice," I hastened to reassure him as I breathed in new leather, Jack’s spicy cologne, and old car funk. "What is it? It's classic, right?"
look plainly said I was the worst sort of neophyte. "Yeah, it's a '65 Mustang," as if that should clarify all. He stared at me like he couldn't believe I wouldn't know something like that.
"Oh, that's, um, old," I fumbled.
"Yeah," he laughed briefly, shaking his head. "So, we've established you know nothing about classic cars." I gave him an indignant look. "My uncle gave me this car. It was a complete wreck, but I've been restoring it a little at a time, when I'm not busy working."
"Oh, where do you work?" I
asked, suddenly curious to know everything about him.
"I work for my uncle, at his auto body shop. He's been teaching me the craft, and I get to use all his equipment in my off time. There's not much of that off time so it's slow going," he shrug
ged. His cell phone alarm suddenly beeped a reminder. He grabbed it and cursed softly. "Sorry. I forgot I have to pick up my sister from school today." He put the car in gear and began to back out, his arm slung across the seat back. "It's really close and won't take but a minute. Then I can drop you off."
"I can take the bus," I began.
"No, it's no problem. Where do you live, by the way?"
gave him the directions. "Oh, great. That's pretty close to my sister's school." He reached to turn the volume down on the stereo, which was booming out the latest
CD. "Sorry. I crank it when I'm by myself."
I smiled. "I like
What else do you listen to?"
We discussed music the rest of the short drive to pick up his sister. We turned out to have
fairly similar tastes, except for his unexpected love of country music, which I abhor. He also confessed to liking a lot of Tejano music, which I guessed was part of his upbringing. He was able to scoff at my liking for Broadway soundtracks, so we were even. I could listen to his voice all day, a deep cadence with just a hint of an accent, like maybe his first language was Spanish instead of English.