Evie & Will: a meet-cute

Evie Macomber watched as a big rig truck, then a massive, articulated tractor, and a few cars passed, going either north or south on Main Street. A girl born and raised on the edge of town in a single-wide mobile home, Evie seldom ventured far from home by herself, never farther than her school.

Evie was hearing impaired. Had been her entire life, because of her “mother’s lifestyle,” the doctors had said. When she was ten, though, a school counselor helped Evie’s mother apply through a state-sponsored program for her daughter to receive cochlear implants. Following the procedure, Evie learned what it was to experience sound. Later, she learned to make them herself, learned to speak.

Her mother, a single parent, following Evie’s birth, had cleaned up, earned her GED, and taken a job at a small business on the other side of town. She also watched over her only child like the proverbial hawk. 

When the wide street was clear, Evie started across, her focus on a café a few doors down.

Today was Evie’s big day out. She and her mother had discussed the day, lining out her objectives like a battle plan, determining what Evie wished to do, and what her mother agreed were good experiences for her daughter on her sixteenth birthday.

After school let out, Evie walked into the center of their small town. She visited the post office. Evie dropped off a handful of mail her mother had sent with her that morning. From there, she strolled, unattended for the first time, through Grossman’s Mercantile, then headed toward the only café in town, Michael’s.

Halfway across the street, eyes still locked on her destination, Evie felt a blast of hot air envelop her just as a piercing squeal of tire rubber got processed, amplified, and delivered to her brain.

She froze, one foot on the centerline, one in the next lane. Her head swiveled mechanically as she caught whiffs of burnt rubber and oily exhaust. Her eyes met his.

Will Wynan had both feet planted on the wide brake pedal, his hands gripping tightly to the underside of the hard plastic steering wheel of his 1982 three-quarter-ton pickup truck.

Will’s eyes, seen just under the bill of his faded yellow and green ball cap, were as big as saucers. Still with a death grip on the wheel, Will standing on the brake, his thin frame was as rigid as an I-beam. His eyes met hers.

The teenagers stared at each other for a long moment, frozen in time.

Will wrested his gaze away from the girl. He glanced in the rearview mirror to check if the street was clear, put his truck into Park, and finally fell back onto his bench seat. He set the parking brake, looked about one more time for signs of traffic, then climbed out of his truck.

Evie’s feet thawed. She brought them together then stepped back from Will’s pickup. She’d seen this boy at school, of course. Remembered him as alone, too, and often looking her way, only to avert his gaze when she took notice.

Will rushed to Evie. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, sure. No worries,” she said in a hushed and monotone string of syllables that Will visibly struggled to interpret. 

“Are you sure?” Will said as he danced on his toes like he needed a restroom. “I turned off the side street, didn’t see you, until almost too late.”

“I . . . I . . . got fixated on the café, wanting a soda,” Evie said.

Will bent over slightly and rubbed his hands on his jeans. “Phew, that was close.” He glanced up and again met Evie’s gaze. “Mm, maybe I could buy you a soda. Having almost run you over, and all.”

“That’s okay,” Evie said. “Not hurt; all good.”

“Seriously.” A horn blared from behind. “Let me park over there and we’ll go to the café together. Would that be all right with you?”

Evie glanced across the street too, then said, “I’ll wait for you there.” She pointed at the front of O’Brien’s Hardware. Will nodded.

He walked with her, passing the front of his faded pickup, made sure that Evie’s path was safe, and watched her go. The horn blasted once more. Will kept his eyes on Evie until she stepped onto the sidewalk, then he returned to his truck.

Inside Michael’s Café, they found a corner booth and sat. They shared grins, peeked out the window, and stammered small talk to one another.

Suddenly, a figure stood beside their table. Head to toe, she wore brown on light brown on khaki trousers, the pants a size too big for her slight frame. Evie and Will looked up. Their sever had round, doe eyes set under long, dark lashes and equally dark and perfectly arched eyebrows. The teens each ordered colas, then shared shy grins.

As the woman walked away, Will’s eyes followed her, before returning his gaze to Evie.

“It’s a hajib,” Evie said, the vowels of each syllable drawn and soft.

Will’s eyes formed a question mark.

“Her head covering. It’s called a hajib.”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s it,” Will agreed. “She’s new here, and, yeah, I couldn’t remember what it was called. I knew it, but . . .”

Evie’s face split with a wide, curving smile. Will’s face flushed.

“I’ve seen you at school. I’m Evie. You’re Will . . . Will?”

“Wynan, Will Wynan. Yeah, I’ve seen you, too.”

“You’ve never said hello or anything.”

“You’re always so busy . . . studying, I guess. And—” he said as he bent to one side.

Evie reached up and pulled her hair forward.

“Please, don’t,” Will said as he lowered his gaze. “I mean you are so . . . I guess I didn’t know how . . .”

Evie, her hand still beside her ear, pulled back her hair so he could see the device.

“How long . . . I mean . . .?”

“I was born deaf. Mom got me into a program, and they bolted—the doctor’s verb for the procedure—these on my head six years ago. Then they taught me to speak. Sort of.”

Will smiled, locked his gaze on her sparkling green eyes, and said, “You talk just fine.”

The woman in the brown hajib returned with their drinks and two straws. She set two frosted glasses down and asked if they needed anything else. No, they said in unison, then grinned at each other again. 

As she walked away, Will noticed Dave Cumberland. Will’s amiable mood slumped, along with the gentle smile he’d held for Evie.

“What is it?” Evie asked as she turned to look.

“Oh, it’s Dave. He’s sort of an uncle or something. Long story. He’s also a horse’s ass, if you don’t mind me saying.”

Evie found the table with two men, one in stained coveralls, and another wearing a cheap cowboy hat. “The one in the cowboy hat?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

Evie watched as Dave glared at the server. “Sort of has bumpkin written all over him, doesn’t he?”

“That’s Dave.”

Evie turned back to their table and put a hand on the plastic straws and looked up. “Do you mind?” she asked as she slid them to the table’s edge.

“Not at all. I hate those things.”

“Hate is such an ugly word,” Evie said with a suddenly shy smile.

“True,” Will said.

Moments later, the woman delivered two massive plates to Dave and his friend. In a soft voice, she asked if they needed this or that. The man in the coveralls slowly shook his head as he attacked the food on his plate. Dave just glared at her. She hurried away, Dave’s foul stare on her as she went.

Evie finished her soda, ice cubes clinking to the bottom of the glass as she set it down. “I need to go soon. Mom’s expecting me by four-thirty. Tonight, we’re going out to dinner.”

“I’ll give you a ride to your place . . . I mean, if you want, that is,” Will said as he checked his fingernails.

“That’s okay. It’s not far. Mom wouldn’t like me showing up with a stranger.”

“I’m not a stranger, not anymore, am I?” Will said as he made a crocked, sideways smile.

“You know what I mean.”

“Most moms don’t worry about such things.”

“They should.”

“I suppose,” Will agreed. “You said you and your mom were going to dinner. You going to try that new place, the, what is it?”

“They’re calling it a steak house, for us locals. Mom says she heard they also have Persian dishes on the menu. Things like kabobs and a dish called kuku sabzi, which sounds interesting.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Will said. “But what’s that place called?” he asked as he seemed to search his memory. “Oh, doesn’t matter. Is this a special dinner, a celebration, or something?”

“Yeah, sort of,” Evie replied. “It was Mom’s idea. She should tell you.”

“Yeah, but I’m a stranger,” Will said, as his grin rippled to the opposite side of his face.

“Funny. I’ll talk to her. Can we meet here again tomorrow? I’ll ask her to come.”

“Hmm, yeah, sure. Sounds great,” Will said as he gripped his glass of cola a little tighter.

* * *

Evie and her mother, Patrice, found Will in the same booth, a nearly empty glass of cola glistening with condensation perched between both hands. Will stood, wiped his hands.

Evie made introductions, and she and her mother sat. Will eased back into his seat, and grasped his drink again.

“Now we’re not strangers, right?” Will said.

“No, I guess not.” Evie eyed her mother for confirmation. Patrice gave a faint nod.

Evie turned, glanced over her shoulder. “I see your uncle, or whatever, is here again.”

Will’s gaze veered in that direction. Patrice followed his stare.

“I know that guy,” Evie’s mother said. “He’s always . . .” She spun on Will and glared at him with penetrating eyes.

Will sat taller, his eyes widening. “He’s not really my uncle. We’re not related. I’m nothing like him, I swear.”

“Mother?” Patrice turned to face her daughter. “You promised.” 

Patrice began to shake her head, paused for a moment, then shared a soft smile with her daughter.

Will glanced from mother to daughter, then down to his drink. He took a long sip, draining the glass.

Their server came to their table and set out menus and asked Evie and her mom what they would like to drink. Today, she had on a green hajib.

When she went for a cola for Evie and a cup of black coffee for Patrice, Will noticed Dave’s leering eyes follow the young woman. 

Will’s companions again followed his gaze. “This is horse crap,” the boy said, then apologized for his language. “Ladies,” Will said as he pushed his glass away and slipped out of the booth. 

He tucked both hands deep into his pockets and strode to Dave’s table. Another man, a different one from yesterday, sat with Dave. The two men were leaning in, conversing, and glancing after the server.

Dave noticed Will and quit talking mid-sentence.

Will, hands still pressed into the bottoms of his pockets, leaned toward Dave. The man nodded and went to say something.

Will cut him off. “It’s a hajib. A head covering. You know, Dave, like a hat. Only with more meaning, greater con . . . conviction.”

Evie practically sat in her mother’s lap, trying her best to hear what the boy had said to the man.

“Look, you little snot . . .” started Dave.

Will stopped him again, pulling one hand from his pocket. When he opened his fist to Dave, both men leaned forward. Dave glared at the object in Will’s hand, then slowly shut his slackened mouth.

Will came back to their booth and took his seat. Evie and her mother smiled at him. He nodded, then slurped ice melt from his glass.

Evie squirmed for a moment or two, then said, “What did you show him?”

A new smile spread across Will’s thin face. Then it disappeared. Dave and his buddy walked past their table; Dave’s penetrating glare locked on the boy.

Dave stopped at their table. While ignoring the women, he put a hand on Will’s shoulder and closed his grip. Will winced, but bit it back. “Someday, boy, someday.” Then Dave let go and marched away.

The tiny bell over the door tinkled, and the men left the diner.

Their server brought Evie’s soda, an empty coffee mug, and a freshly brewed pot of coffee to the table. As she poured Patrice’s java, she eyed the two men crossing the street and getting into a pickup. Sensing the coffee mug was full, she righted the coffee pot, stood back, then gave Will a warm smile, which he returned, as his cheeks reddened.

When she had gone, Will pulled the object from his pocket to show Evie. He opened his hand. In his palm lay a stone, one ground and polished in the shape of a perfectly round disc.

Evie and her mother leaned forward and eyed the stone, looked up, question marks knitted in their respective brows. 

“Dave gave me this a while back. Maybe two or three months ago.” 

Evie had And? written across her face. So did her mother, only less obvious.

“I caught Dave doing something with someone . . . someone, not his wife.”

Evie looked shocked. Her mother simply nodded her head.

“He gave me this rock and said that I should keep what I’d seen to myself. If I do, I can use this rock . . . as Dave put it, to get out of jail free. I do anything wrong, I am to show him, remind him of our agreement, with this little stone.”

Evie glanced at it once more. It was a dark red color, like almost-dried blood, with white veins running through the stone.

She looked at her mother. Then to Will. “Hmm, shouldn’t you tell his wife, anyway? I mean, holding it over Dave and, well, keeping his wife in the dark doesn’t seem right.”

Patrice vigorously nodded her head, a slight frown buckling the corners of her mouth.

“She’s just as bad,” Will said as he reached into his other pocket and pulled out a shiny Native American one-dollar coin. One minted the previous year, Evie could see. “She gave me this just last month.”

Patrice leaned back in her seat, a wide grin painting itself across her face. She reached out and took a sip of her coffee. Then she turned to her daughter.

Evie swiveled in her seat to face her mother. Patrice gave a slow, double nod of her head.

Evie turned to Will. “Tonight, would you like to join us for dinner at that steak house I mentioned?”

Will returned the chits his ‘sort-of’ relatives had given him to his pockets. “Didn’t you go there last night?”

“Yep, and we loved it,” Evie said. “We’d like to take you there.”

By Brien Crothers 

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