Evan wore jeans that weren’t stained or torn in any way. He had only worn them once before. His eight grade graduation. In the years that had passed, his legs had thickened and he had grown an inch. The jeans fit tighter around his waist, and they rode up his ankles a little higher than before.
He stepped into high-topped Chuck’s to hide the fact that his nice jeans no longer fit him. His shirt was a simple button down, too baggy around the shoulders and waist, but not long enough in the arms.
“You look handsome,” his mother said when he stepped out of his room. “A lot like your father when he was young.”
Evan cringed. She meant it as a compliment, and he knew that. But he didn’t want to be compared to his father in any capacity. Even after their pleasant afternoon in the shop, when he came home and saw his mother’s welted face, the simmering hatred for his father returned.
“You look beautiful, too,” he told his mother, as he kissed her on the cheek. She had used makeup to trick the bruises and swelling from her face. She did look beautiful.
She wore a red sundress covered in yellow sunflowers. The dress ran a little high and showed off her pale legs. The front of her outfit exposed some cleavage. Her blonde hair tumbled about her shoulders. Strategic makeup finished the carefree look. To her parents, she wouldn’t appear broken or worn, but full of life.
Seeing her like that created a regretful dread for Evan. He wanted more than ever to get out of Ayser. To get his mother away from his father. But what could he do?
“You ready?” His father’s voice had thickened with booze. Evan had stopped drinking after the first can, but his father had continued, and he still held a beer in his left hand. He glared at his wife. “Where you think you’re going looking like that?”
“Martin,” she said.
“Go change your damn clothes. You’re not some common whore like that Espinoza woman.” He finished his beer and placed the empty can on the kitchen counter.
Evan clenched his fists. His father meant Savannah’s mom. He glared at the man, swallowing every impulse he had to rip out his throat.
“What’re you looking at?”
“You don’t have to talk her that way.” The words spilled through clenched teeth. He didn’t mean to say them. He barely even thought them. And as they gushed from his lips, he tried to bring them back.
The smack sang through the small home. Evan’s cheek burned, tiny prickles stung his skin.
“Don’t you dare speak to me that way. You say another word and I’ll pay it forward with my left hand.”
He wore his high school ring on his left hand. From experience, Evan knew it would cut through his face.
Evan nodded, lowering his gaze to his feet. If he said sorry, if he whimpered, if he made any noise at all, he’d feel the cold kiss of that ring.
“Go sit on the couch and wait for you whore mother.” Martin opened the front door and walked out of the single-wide.
Evan sat down on their old couch and fought back tears and waited for his mother.
An hour later, they were at Chevy’s. The waiter placed food in front of the party.
“Thank you,” Christine said. She had changed into a pair of light jeans and a cotton-knit blouse that covered her up to the neck.
Evan’s maternal grandparents sat beside her. His dad sat at the head of the table, a margarita rested in front of him.
“Have you applied for any colleges,” Grandpa asked. He sawed into his steak.
“Just a few local ones.”
“He wants to get into the family business,” Martin said from the head of the table. “Work on cars like his old man. We were out there this afternoon working on an old Mustang. A beauty.” He spoke with a mouthful of wet burrito.
“Is that right?” asked Evan’s grandpa.
Evan shrugged. He thought of Savannah and how she wanted him to leave town with her. But how could he? Evan glanced at his mom, then back to his grandpa. “Maybe. My teachers say to keep my mind open to different opportunities.”
“Teachers are a bunch of liberal nut jobs pushing their handout agenda. Keep your options open means pay a fortune to go to college to get a union job so you can support the democratic party.” Martin drank from his margarita. “Listen, my boy ain’t going to no college. We have plans to expand my shop. He’ll make more money than he knows exists.”
“Well, it’s always good to have options,” said his grandpa.
“How’s school going?” asked Evan’s grandma. “Do you like all your classes?”
Evan wished he could crawl under the table and hide underneath its wood surface. He wished he could turn invisible and run away. Instead, he stared at his untouched plate of enchiladas and said, “Some of them.”
“He took an auto shop class. Told me he learned the basics,” Martin said with a mouthful of food.
“I’m not taking that class anymore,” Evan said. “I didn’t like it.” Which was true enough. He hated the teacher, not so much the class. But Evan felt safe amongst his grandparents. He felt like he could take a few jabs at the old man. “I never even wanted to take it.”
The table went silent. The music in the restaurant and the conversations around them seemed to mute. Martin stopped chewing. The fork dangled in his hand, barely propped on his finger. Evan’s grandma and grandpa glanced at each other.
“Evan, are you sure,” Christine asked. She placed a hand on his arm.
Evan glared at his father. He wanted to cry and he wanted to scream and he wanted to jam his fork through his dad’s eye. But most of all, he wanted his dad to apologize and try and be a decent husband and dad.
Instead, Martin stared right back at Evan. “You’ll take that class next semester, and that’s the end of this conversation.” He worked his fork into the burrito and heaved in another bite.
Evan’s lower lip quivered as he fought holding back a tirade of words. A tear streaked down his cheek. He lowered his head to hide his emotion and took the first bite of his dinner.
It tasted bitter.
He stared at the red sauce that covered the enchilada. He imagined shrinking down to the size of an ant and jumping into the red sauce and drowning in it until he no longer felt anything.
“Rex,” Martin said. “Carol. Thanks for dinner. I think we should be going, though.”
“Marty?” Christine touched her husband’s hand.
“Shut the hell up.” He slammed his fist into the table.
Rex stood. “I hope to God you’re not speaking to my daughter that way.”
“I seem to remember her being my wife.” Martin also stood. “I’ll speak to her however I see fitting. I don’t mean to be rude, sir, but this isn’t any of your goddamn business.”
Rex remained standing, but leaned toward his daughter. Evan heard him whisper into her ear. “Come home with me tonight. You and the boy shouldn’t be alone with him.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “Evan and I get along fine. Martin has a temper, but that’s only because he has high expectations for himself and his son. He means no harm beyond loud words.” She gripped Evan’s arm. “You ready?”
“Christine,” Rex said in a low voice. “He may have you fooled, but he’s not fooling anyone else. As your father, as a man who loves you, come home with me. You and Evan.”
Martin marched around the table and toward Rex. “You stop whispering to my wife,” he said, grabbing the old man’s arm and throwing it from Christine’s shoulder.
The rest of the restaurant stared at them now. Evan’s cheeks matched his hair.
“She’s going home with me. And if you take another step forward, I’ll call the cops.”
Martin guffawed. “Evan, Christine, let’s go. Don’t make me beat an old man.”
Evan glanced up and saw fire in his father’s eyes. He knew one thing. Either his mother was getting beat, or his grandpa was. But this was their chance to getaway, if only he could convince his mom. Tell her he wanted to go with his grandparents, and not back home with his dad.
He looked at her, his eyes wide and desperate. “Mom,” he said.
She shushed him and shook her head. “Listen to your father. It’s time to go,” she said.
“Baby, if you leave, I can’t support you anymore. I can’t support him anymore.” Rex stood over her and his face appeared defeated. “Not if supporting you means staying with him. Means putting yourself and our grandchild in danger every single day.”
“You’re the only one in danger,” Martin said. “Christine, let’s go.”
Two waiters appeared and faced my father. “Sir, we have to ask you to leave. If you refuse, we’ll call the police. Is that understood?”
The man who spoke spoke to him had curly hair and acne. He was no older than twenty, and his voice wavered as he spoke. Evan could tell he was scared, and he didn’t blame him.
Martin stared at the two waiters, probably assessing his chances of getting through them and then to Rex.
Christine turned to her dad. “We’re safe. And if you have to cut off the money, so be it. I’ll find a second job.”
Carol grabbed her husband’s hand. “Rex,” she said.
He pulled his hand away. “This is your last chance, Christine. We won’t be here for you after this.”
“Quit being so hardheaded,” Carol said. “Christine, he’s all worked up. I’ll talk some sense into him. You know we’re always here for you.”
“Let’s go,” Martin said. “Get your purse and the boy and let’s go.”
Carol hugged and kissed Evan goodbye. “Happy birthday. I’m proud of you,” she said.
It took all of Evan’s will not to latch onto his grandmother and hold her until she stole him away.
“Love you,” his grandpa said. “You be good. And stay safe.”
With that, Evan and his mother followed his father out of the restaurant and back to the chaos.