12. Bad Influence

The next two weeks glided by with the same amount of carefree ease.
Evan became part of my routine, accepting al that came along with it –
and finding ways to add to it as wel. Remembering my ten o’clock
curfew and taking advantage of my after school activities, Evan easily
convinced Sara and I to come over to his house one night after completing
the layout of the newspaper with hours to spare before my
deadline. Jason met us there, and the four of us attempted to play
pool. I should say Sara and I attempted, Evan and Jason were pretty
decent. I laughed as Sara made fun of her miscalculated shots, and she
teased me for not being able to draw a straight line when I’d hit the
cue bal in an unintended direction. Stil smiling, I walked in the door
before ten o’clock. I was oblivious to Carol and George’s presence, consumed
by the playback of the day in my head.
Not getting caught empowered me; making it easier to concede each
time Evan came up with something else for us to do. I should’ve remembered
I wasn’t the luckiest person in the world, but the thril of
getting away with it was too addicting. One of the nights, Sara watched
in roling laughter as Evan taught me to drive his car in the parking lot
of the high school. It was late enough so no one was there, and the
parking lot was on the side of the school, not easily seen from the main
road since it was lined with trees. I suppose if I had witnessed the car
jerking and staling and heard me yeling in exasperation, I would have
been laughing too. Evan was patiently determined, and after what felt
like a whiplashing eternity, I drove his car around the parking lot,
shifting from first to second. He tried to convince me to take it on the
road to get used to shifting, but I refused.
That Sunday, I met him at the library again. I told my aunt and uncle I
had a huge History project to work on so that I could meet Evan earlier,
and we’d have more time together. He’d warned me to dress
warmly when we left school on Friday. I was glad I did when he puled
into the state park a few towns west of Weslyn. Evan guided me along
a dirt trail, through the leaf encrusted woods, with the cool crisp air
sweeping across our faces. The warm layers became unnecessary after
my blood started pumping, wielding some effort to climb the loose
terrain as we progressed further into the woods. I removed my gloves
and wrapped my outer layer around my waist, leaving on my fleece.
We didn’t talk much as we walked. The quiet was comfortable, and I
was relieved to be away from Weslyn and enraptured by the serene
setting with the chirping of the birds and the light breeze rustling the
leaves. I absorbed the colorful wilderness while folowing Evan’s navy
backpack, alowing a grin to rest on my face.
Evan stopped at the base of a tal rock structure, which was virtualy flat
along its vertical line, accented by subtle curves and indentations. It
appeared to be about a hundred feet tal inset in the earth, so only the
one side was exposed.
“Ready?” he asked, looking up. I stopped and took in his line of sight,
eyeing the large structure.
“Am I ready for what?” I asked tentatively.
“We’re going to rappel down the face of this rock,” he answered, smiling
back at me. “It’s realy not that big, don’t worry.”
“We’re going to do what?!”
“You’l love it, I promise.” My reaction did little to deter his huge smile.
“I was here yesterday scoping it out. There’s a path around to the left
that brings us to the top.”
He took in my frozen stature and added, “You trust me, right?”
I looked at him and shook my head. “Not anymore.”
He laughed. “Come on.” He hiked along the path that traced the
massive structure. To my dismay, my legs folowed. When we climbed
to the top, the distance looking down appeared twice as far as it did
when I viewed it from the bottom. My stomach roled, but instead of
becoming overtaken by panic, I was unexpectedly struck with a surge
of adrenaline.
“Here’s to faling to my death,” I thought to myself. I joined Evan in the
center of the flattened area where he was laying out the equipment.
“Ready yet?” he asked, grinning at me.
I took in a lung ful of air and released it slowly through my puckered
lips. “Sure.”
Before I could change my mind, Evan had me slip my legs through the
holes of the harness and fastened it securely. He proceeded to explain
the rope system and where I should place my hands and how to release
it to let myself down. I listened carefuly, knowing if I didn’t pay
attention, I would never be listening to anything again – even with
Evan’s promise that he’d spot me the entire time and I had nothing to
fear. Easy for him to say. Once the rope was anchored to a sturdy tree
and the figure eight was clipped to me, Evan returned to the base
where he held the dropped rope to assure that I didn’t fal – or to get
the best view when I plummeted to my death. I backed up to the edge
of the rock. The first step was the hardest, especialy leaning back into
a position that defied gravity. The adrenaline pushed me over the
edge, and I was planted on the side of the rock, staring straight up
through the treetops toward the sky. I remained stil, trying to fight the
urge to lean upright.
Evan holered instructions from below to correct my angle and the positioning
of my feet. I tentatively fed the rope with my right hand as my
feet slowly crept down. After I got used to the release and footing, my
stuttered steps progressed into smal hops, until my feet found the
safety of the ground. It didn’t take as long as I imagined, but I stil felt
exhilarated to be standing on my own –
“What did you think?” Evan asked with a grin.
“I liked it,” I surrendered, grinning back.
“I knew you would.” I roled my eyes as he unclipped the rope from my
We rappeled a couple more times, and I felt more comfortable with
each attempt. Evan chose to go face-first his last time, which was difficult
to watch. The speed with which he ran down the rock caught my
“Show off,” I mumbled as he landed with ease on the bed of falen
“Don’t worry, you’l be looking for the next rush too after you get used
to it.”
“I don’t think I’l ever want to do that.”
“I think I found the perfect place for you to try to drive my car. The
road that almost never has cars on it,” Evan declared on our way back
down to the car. “We can go out after you work on the paper on
“You realy think that I should be driving on the road for the first time
in the dark?”
 “You’re right,” he agreed. “Let’s go out while it’s stil light after soccer
practice. Then we’l go back to the school so you can work on the
“We’l see,” I said, without committing.
“Do you think you’l be able to go to the homecoming game on Friday
“No,” I said without even thinking twice.
“So no dance on Saturday night either, huh?”
I let out a laugh in response.
“Are you going to the homecoming dance?” I asked, not sure why I
wanted to know.
“Don’t think so.”
“Why not?” I encouraged, but oddly filed with a sense of relief. “You
can’t tel me you couldn’t find anyone to go with.”
“Emma, you and I are dating, remember?” he taunted, his mouth
pushing into a slow grin.
“Shut up,” I snapped back. “You can’t tel me people stil think that?
Haven’t you told them we’re not?”
“I haven’t said anything either way.”
“That’s stupid.” I stopped to look at him. “Why would you want everyone
assuming something that isn’t true?”
“Why should I care?”
“So you can ask someone you’re interested in to go to the dance with
you,” I replied, not expecting his lack of concern.
“I just did.”
“You did not just ask me to the dance.” I crossed my arms across my
chest in defiance. He smirked and shrugged. I turned and kept walking
along the path.
“Whatever happened with Haley?” I questioned, changing the focus.
“She’s nominated for homecoming queen.”
“Seriously?” he scoffed. “Have you ever tried having a conversation
with her?”
“I don’t think she even knows my name.”
“I think she does now,” he teased. “You know, now that we’re dating.”
“Evan! Knock it off,” I huffed. He laughed.
“Honestly,” he admitted, “I haven’t been here that long, and the
thought of going to the dance doesn’t appeal to me. I’m not that into
anyone else.” My heart stammered at the last word, but my mind dismissed
it before I could think too much about it.
“Is there a way you could stay over Sara’s after your game on
Saturday? That way you and I could hang out and watch movies or
“That’s probably unlikely. My aunt works for the school system, in
their administrations building. She’l know that it’s the homecoming
dance and wil doubt that Sara would give up the dance to hang out
with me.”
“Why doesn’t she like you?” A spasm shot through my chest, realizing
I’d revealed too much.
I must have been silent for too long because Evan added,
“Sorry. I don’t get it, but you don’t have to explain.” We walked
without speaking the remaining distance to the car. I searched for a
way to recover.
What was I supposed to say? No Evan, she doesn’t “not like me”, she
despises me. She lets me know it every opportunity she can because I
invaded her life, and she wants me out. But her marriage to my father’s
brother keeps me in her house, so it’s her mission to make every
second of my life torturously miserable.
I knew those words would never leave my lips, so while Evan loaded
the backpacks into the trunk, I leaned my back against the car and
blurted, “It wasn’t easy to be an instant mother of a twelve year-old.
I’m sure she’s just being way too overprotective, not wanting me to get
into trouble.”
Evan let my words sink in for a moment before responding.
“Does she even know you?” he chalenged. “You’re not the type of person
to hang out with the wrong crowd. You’re the perfect student, a
talented athlete, and the most responsible person I’ve ever met.” He
almost sounded angry.
I turned to look at him, confused by his fervent reaction.
“I don’t understand why they can’t see who you realy are and alow you
to live a little. You know - go to footbal games, dances or even on a
date.” He was speaking louder, more agitated as he completed his
“No, you don’t understand,” I said quietly, but firmly, taking in his
agitation. His reaction bothered me. He shouldn’t care if they knew me
or not. He was just supposed to accept my answers and let it go. “I
think I should get back to the library.” I turned, leaving him looking
after me as I entered the car.
Evan slipped quietly onto the driver’s seat and hesitated before starting
the car.
“Emma, I’m sorry.” I looked out the window, not ready to face him.
“You’re right, I don’t know. If it’s none of my business, then I promise
not to bring it up again. I didn’t mean to make you upset.”
His voice was quiet and pleading. I heard his sincerity through my
“It is none of your business,” I confirmed quietly, stil not looking at
him. He started the car, and we drove away in silence.
“And I’m not mad at you.” I looked over at him with a soft smile to
convince him I wasn’t – he smiled back. My cheeks flooded instantly
with heat.
“Do you think you and Sara could get out of watching the JV
game to get pizza or something on Wednesday?” I smiled, recognizing
he wasn’t ready to give up trying to stretch my boundaries.
“I think so.”
Evan and I continued as if the conversation never happened. He didn’t
talk about my lack of freedom, and I didn’t push him away. We had
our driving lesson on Tuesday and pizza with Sara and Jason on Wednesday.
My world revolved in a fairly predictable rotation, despite
Evan’s impulsive persistence – determined to be a bad influence.
Miraculously, I was stil able to avoid Carol for the most part. Each day,
I found it easier to smile.
To top it al off, the soccer team was locked in as the division champions.
We had one game left of the regular season before the state championship
playoffs. Coach Peña revealed he’d been taping my games to
send highlights to colege recruiters. I didn’t realize he’d been doing
this, but the knowledge that more schools were interested made me
believe that escape was actualy possible. He even warned that more
scouts may be attending the first round of the playoffs. For the first
time, my life felt livable.
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