Evelyn did not want a sister.
She did not want a father either, for that matter. Or aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, cousins twice removed, et cetera, et cetera. All her live it had just been Evelyn and her mother, and things were fine like that, they didn’t have to change.
Alas, change happens, whether we like it or not. Evelyn knew that her mother had a boyfriend: some harmless guy named Mr. Phil. They’d been going out for two years, longer than any of Tania’s previous boyfriends. It was but a matter of time before Tania decided to remarry, and Evelyn was greeted with the reality of a stepfather and a host of new family members to pretend to like. That was the price Evelyn would have to pay for her mother’s happiness. But that was okay. Evelyn had made her peace with the idea a long time ago.
Now, a sister? Nope. No, no. Sisters were a different matter. Evelyn valued her privacy. She could deal with sharing her house with one complete stranger. Two was one too many.
“I don’t understand,” said Tania, after the fateful revelation. “I thought you would be happy to get a sister.”
“Happy?!” Evelyn exclaimed, dumbfounded. “Exactly what part of ‘sharing my life with a stranger’ was supposed to make me happy? And where is she even going to sleep? The house is too small for more people.”
Tania pursed her lips. “We… are going to move in with Philip.”
That was the last straw.
“No?” asked Tania, surprised.
“No, I am not leaving,” said Evelyn, with resolution. “Mom, I’ve lived here my whole life. It’s my house, my street, my neighborhood. I have a life here. Friends. You want me to move to a different town? Why? So we can be one big happy family together? Well, sorry, but that’s not happening. You can go and live with him if you want, but I’m staying.”
For a moment, Evelyn thought, really thought, that she could win this argument.
“It’s not up to debate, Evelyn. I’ve already sold the house.”
And that was the moment when it felt as if the world had been pulled from underneath her feet.
There was no ceremony. No white dress or guests. One day, Tania and Mr. Phil left for the city council together. The next day a moving truck was waiting at the doorstep.
Evelyn didn’t have much to pack, herself. She didn't like owning much stuff. So most of the morning was spent helping disassemble the house furniture to transport over to Mr. Phil’s. His house was on the other side of town. Not so awfully far that Evelyn couldn’t catch a bus to see her friends, but far enough that she would have to switch schools and find a new skateboard park to go to in the weekends.
The house itself was a modest two-story building, all white, with a minimal lawn and a picket fence. A little run-down, but definitely an improvement over Eve’s old place. Moving the furniture in took less than thirty-minutes. Once all the boxes were set, Eve decided to get started with the bedroom. It was mostly ready, according to Mr. Phil. Eve gathered her things — one bag, a backpack and the bass guitar — and walked up the stairs.
The moment she opened the door, she froze, astonished. Everything she could see was pastel-colored, with a strong presence of pink and baby-blue, and there were stuffed toys everywhere. The wardrobe had laces tied on the handles (oh, the horror) and there was even a dressing table with an adorned mirror. A swearword escaped her lips. What kind of sugar-coated fairy-tale nightmare was that?
There were two beds. The one on the left wall had a unicorn-patterned duvet, pink cushions and several animal plushies. The one on the right wall was plain, with a single stuffed monkey doll on top. If Evelyn had to guess, that one was hers. But still, if she was expected to sleep in that place, she’d have to do something about all the glitter and cuteness.
Eve laid her suitcase on the bed, placed her bass guitar in a corner, and got to work. The first thing she did was get out some of her personal stuff to hang on the walls. An old vinyl replaced a flower painting. The anarchist flag went above the headboard. The pride flag went on the wall next to it. She gathered all the plushies and laces she could find on that side of the room, including the monkey, and laid them on the other bed. New rule: No plushies on my side of the bedroom, or I won’t be held accountable for what might happen to them. Such an important rule that Eve even wrote it down on a sticky note and stuck it to the wardrobe door, so that her new stepsister could see. Finally, she got a black marker and started scribbling on the wall. In time, she knew, she’d have to make sure to replace the hideous baby blue paint with a more agreeable color, like white, black or gray, but, for the time being, the graffiti would suffice. She wrote down excerpts from her favorite books, lots of song lyrics, and also attempted a couple of drawings. Then she took a step back to check on her work. It wasn’t the perfect bedroom, far from it, but it would do.
At some point, Tania called Evelyn to help with some furniture downstairs. Evelyn glanced one last time at the frills and laces, shivered in agony, then left the room.
Evelyn, her mother, and Mr. Phil were halfway through assembling Tania’s old bookcase when a blond girl about Evelyn’s age stormed into the living room.
“What the hell happened to my room?!” the girl exclaimed. Eve gave the girl a once over. Until that day, she had only ever seen her so-called new “sister” in pictures. Brianna Lake was pretty, but only in that pasteurized, carbon-copy way of popular people. Evelyn knew the type. Shallow, uninteresting, fawning over boys, that sort of thing.
“It was an intervention,” Eve told her, smiling devilishly. “You needed one.”
Apparently, the girl had not even noticed Eve’s presence there, not until she spoke. Her eyebrows went up and she seemed in a bit of a shock.
Eve’s mother didn’t appreciate the joke.
“Evelyn Rachel Meyers, what did you do?” she asked, giving her that “mom”-look which usually meant Eve was about to get severely scolded.
“Nothing!” she retorted, raising both hands in a plea of innocence. “All I did was hang up my flags, and write songs on the walls. I didn’t touch your side of the room, princess,” she added, acid, looking at the blond girl.
Mr. Phil sighed. “Brianna, Evelyn,” he looked at one, then the other. “I know you both like having your own space, and you might not be comfortable sharing one room, but, until we can move to a bigger house, I need you girls to cooperate. Things are probably gonna be awkward for a little while, but I really, really hope we can overcome these problems and learn to live together. Can you do that for me?”
Eve had to admit, she felt bad for Mr. Phil, then. He was a great guy, and she could see that he was really trying his best to make this work. It wasn’t his fault that Evelyn didn’t want a sister, or that Brianna didn’t seem to want one, either.
“Okay, Mr. Phil,” she told him.
The blond girl remained silent, and judging by the look on her face, she seemed conflicted.
“Brianna?” her father asked, in a slightly more demanding tone.
She sighed. “Fine.”
It was clear to Evelyn that Brianna hated her. She hated her band t-shirts, her doodles on the wardrobe, her bass guitar, her gum-chewing habits, and her nose ring. She was particularly irritated by the punk music Eve put on the boom box whenever she wanted to practice. Eve, in turn, was doing her best to ignore the other woman. In all her life, she had never once felt the urge to interact with superficial people like Brianna, and she wasn’t about to start now. She could play the part of a sister in front of mom and Mr. Phil, but don’t anyone expect any more from her than that.
It didn’t seem like the blonde had any desire to put in the effort, either. On their second night living together, Brianna padlocked her side of the wardrobe, something that amused Eve greatly. Like she would want to go through her stepsister’s stuff. Later, Eve discovered that Brianna woke up every night at about 2 am to write in a secret diary. Maybe she thought that if Eve found out about her diary, she would want to take a peek inside. But what secrets could a shallow girl like Brianna keep that would be of interest to anyone? It was probably just a daily rambling about the boys she liked and the rivals she had at school. Eve figured she might write down a word or two about her new sister, but Evelyn wasn’t going to violate the other woman’s privacy just to find Brianna thought she was a delinquent, which is what everyone already thought of her, anyway.
The school term started about two weeks after the move. Tania enrolled her daughter in the same school Brianna went to. It was only a short distance from the house, and Mr. Phil seemed to think that them going to the same school would help them bond as sisters. If so, he was in for a letdown.
They walked to school in silence and returned in silence, every day. They were even in the same class: Brianna was only older than Eve by two months. As expected, she had many friends at school, not only because she’d been attending that same school since grade two, but also because she was really popular. Eve was the newcomer, so she didn’t know anyone, but she wasn’t bothered by it. Eve wasn’t dead set against making friends, but she decided not to go out of her way to make any, either. Whatever happens, happens. And besides, she wasn’t looking for classmates so much as bandmates.
She did reach the end of her first week of classes on speaking terms with a few of the other students in class. Evelyn eventually found a group of people in the school who played music together for fun, and they were looking for a bass player, even. Perfect. It wasn’t the style of music she preferred, but the joy of finally playing in a band again more than made up for that. As a result, she started going home less often with Brianna, since rehearsals were usually held after class. Evelyn was happy with that arrangement, and she supposed Brianna was too. As a bonus, their parents would be seeing less of their bickering at home. A win-win situation.
Then, one day, rehearsals ran longer than expected. Eve and her band were all hyped up now that they were finally writing music of their own, and Eve made sure to keep them going until they’d finished at least one full song. She didn’t realize it was so late until she got home.
She was just about to open the door when she took out her phone and looked at the time.
11pm. I’m screwed, she realized.
And... that wasn’t all. There were nine missed calls. I’m really, really screwed.
Sure enough, Eve found her mom sitting at the living room table, looking at her as if she was a puppy murderer.
“Where were you?” Tania asked, in a level tone, betraying no emotion. Bad sign.
“Rehearsals ran long,” Evelyn explained. She swung the bass off her shoulder and rested it against the bookcase, like she usually did.
“Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
Evelyn winced. That was so not gonna end well. “S– sorry,” she told her mother, stuttering. “The music was really loud and—”
“Evelyn, do you even remember what day is today?”
What day? Hold on... does that mean she was supposed to have done something that she forgot?
“Erm... was it my turn to do the laundry?” she risked.
Tania sighed. She didn’t look
angry, just disappointed. Somehow, that was worse.
“It’s Brianna’s birthday,” she said. “We were going out for pizza. I told you in the morning, remember?”
Eve facepalmed. Worst part? She really did tell. And it had completely slipped the girl’s mind. Tania, Mr. Phil and Brianna had probably waited for her all evening.
“Shit... I’m sorry.”
“Tell that to your sister,” said her mom, before getting up from the chair and walking away to her and her husband’s room.
Evelyn pursed her lips. How was she going to explain to Brianna that she forgot about her birthday?
She walked up the steps to the shared bedroom, slowly, trying to come up with an excuse. But she stopped short from opening the door, because a noise was coming from inside. Brianna was sobbing. Eve felt a pang of guilt in her chest. Okay, so Brianna may not like her stepsister (and vice versa), but this didn’t make it right for Evelyn to ruin her birthday.
Evelyn knocked. The sobbing instantly stopped. She swung open the door. Brianna was lying in bed, under the covers, with the bedside lamp on.
“Hey...” Evee called. No response. “Um... sorry for today. My bad. But look, you can still go out for pizza some other day, right? With mom, and Mr. Phil. I’m sure they’ll take you tomorrow, if you ask them. No harm done?”
Still no response. Eve shrugged, got herself a change of clothes from the wardrobe, then left the room to take a bath downstairs. When she came up again, the bedside lamp was off, so she assumed Brianna was already asleep. She dove into her own bed and instantly fell asleep, as well.
Eve woke up a few hours later to the sound of Brianna’s voice. At first, she thought the blonde was talking to someone. Except... the words she spoke made no sense. It was a language Evelyn had never heard before. When she turned to look, there was a circle chalked on the floor, with lit candles all around it. Seven candles, in total. Brianna held a thick book in her hands, and was reading from it. Was that an incantation? Eve pinched herself, just to make sure she wasn’t dreaming the whole thing.
“Brianna?” she called, confused. But Brianna did not look at her, and instead simply kept reading in the strange language of the book. Eve got up, then took careful steps toward her stepsister. “Brianna, what are you doing?”
Brianna finished her incantation. She closed the book. The chalk circle started glowing in a bright blue color. Wind blew around them. How could there be wind inside a bedroom? Or rather... where was the bedroom? Where was anything at all? Eve could only see herself, the blue glowing circle of chalk, and Brianna standing before her, the rest was darkness. The wind seemed to be blowing counterclockwise around the circle, like a whirlwind. And then, as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped. The chalk circle was gone, too. Brianna and Evelyn were inside a large square room of stone walls, with no doors or windows. The only light in the room came from a lit torch on the wall. Evelyn looked around, alarmed.
“Where are we?” she asked.
Brianna scrunched her face, and said a word her stepsister had never known to be a part of her vocabulary, until then.