By Carling Ramsdell
Evie is dying in a hospital room. She knows it’s a hospital room, even though the floor and ceiling blur with the metallic instruments and she can’t tell if the paint is white or blue or silver. To her left, James Goad, the actor that plays the main character of her favorite T.V. show, Ghost Town, is sitting by her bedside and brushing her hair out of her face. She knows it’s James, gorgeous blue eyes and soft black hair, but his face is fuzzy. James is telling Evie something funny to get her mind off the fact that she’s dying, and Evie laughs and James laughs, but the conversation, much like James’s face, is fuzzy. The sheets of the bed bury her, expanding into big, loose, feathery piles. They’re the only thing Evie can feel clearly.
James wraps Evie into a hug. Her head is in his chest. He’s so sturdy, so much bigger than she is. In his arms, Evie is not dying. James’s arms and James’s chest are there. They are real.
James loves Evie just as much as Evie loves James, but Evie is dying, and dating is impractical. Evie knows that. Maybe they would have been dating, but in this life, because Evie is dying, they can only be close friends.
“Come with me,” James says as they separate. Her head is no longer in his chest, but their fingers, wrapped together, keep them close.
When she wakes up, she’s staring at a ceiling and James is not beside her anymore.
She rolls over and presses her palm against the James Goad poster by her bed. It’s icy and her fingers squeak against the shiny lamination. Poster James is dressed like Simon Bryer, the ghost he plays on T.V.
She hasn’t even been awake for thirty seconds before the waves of nausea that have been churning inside of her for the past two days wash back over her. She feels it everywhere, her whole body trembling, and then it concentrates itself into a stabbing pain in her stomach and lower abdomen. She squeezes her eyes shut. They’re wet and hot behind her eyelids, as if they’re about to burn holes through the thin veil of skin. She twists the frayed sleeve of her oversized gray sweatshirt over her hand, but the pain is too intense to ignore.
In real life, Evie is freezing under her too-scratchy comforter in her own home.
After her mother left on her business trip to Seattle two days ago, it started snowing. Snowing more than anyone in Northern Virginia was used to.
“It’s going to be record breaking. Like, three feet at least,” Madison, who sits next to Evie in chemistry, said excitedly to Layla behind her. “We’ll be out of school for a week. Maybe longer.”
Evie frowned. “My mom’s leaving next week,” she said, leaning forward toward Madison. “I’m going to have the whole house to myself. It’ll be really lonely especially if we don’t have school.”
Madison wasn’t listening. “Did you do the homework?” she asked Layla.
Evie sighed and looked back down at her binder.
Evie never found out if they really had gotten three feet of snow because that’s when the power went out. No heat, no water, no nothing. And an ambulance would have a hell of a time making its way down her street. Not only is no one in Virginia ever prepared for snow, but Clifton is always the last area to be plowed. With her house nestled at the very top of a hill at the end of a very long, very curvy driveway,
Evie can’t walk out to find one of her neighbors, especially considering she can barely drag herself to the bathroom.
“Evie,” someone says.
It’s James. He’s spinning slowly in her desk chair, concern knitted across his face.
“You came,” she says. “How did you find me?”
“The power’s back on,” he says, turning the nob of the lamp on Evie’s desk. The corner of Evie’s room lights up.
“It’s still freezing in here,” Evie says.
“Yeah. It’ll take a while before the heat really takes effect again.”
“Get up,” James says. He grabs Evie’s hands and pulls her into a sitting position. As she dangles her legs off the side of her bed, he adjusts Evie’s fleece blanket around her shoulders.
“You should really call someone,” James says.
“What do you mean?” Evie asks.
“A friend, a neighbor. I know your mom’s all the way on the other side of the country right now, but you should probably tell her if you’re really this sick. You need help, Evie.”
Evie frowns. “What could they do for me? You’re here. You’re going to help me.”
“I’m sorry, Evie,” James says. He fades into transparency.
On a Tuesday when Evie was thirteen, her mother stayed at work past twelve a.m. That day at school, her friends had been talking about a new show they’d started watching on Netflix. It was called Ghost Town and it was about a super sweet ghost who was just trying to find love and make friends, but that proved difficult because he’d been dead since the end of the Revolutionary War.
When Evie got home, she went into the basement and turned it on to see what it was about. After the second episode, she was hooked. After the fourth episode, it was almost seven thirty and Evie was hungry and starting to worry about her mother. She hadn’t seen her that morning. Her mother always left for work an hour or two before Evie was out the door for school, but she was usually home to throw a burrito or a lasagna in the microwave for dinner so she could eat with her daughter. If she wasn’t giving Evie the silent treatment because of her “unsatisfactory” completion of homework and chores, she would talk endlessly about her day and her coworkers before Evie locked herself in her room for homework and bed.
Evie’s mom came home towards the end of the eleventh episode, two episodes before the season one finale, just as things were getting intense. Evie paused the T.V. as she heard the clip of her mother’s heels as she walked down the steps into the basement.
“Evie,” her mother said. “What are you still doing up?”
She stood in front of the T.V, arms crossed over her chest. Evie, who had slunk so far down into the couch she was almost lying down, sat up.
“I was waiting for you,” she said.
“Have you done your homework?”
“No,” Evie said.
“What about the chores I set out for you?”
“I set out a list on the kitchen table. I told you I would be working late. I take it you’ve been watching T.V. this whole time?”
Evie didn’t answer.
“I don’t know what you were thinking. It’s a school night! It’s time for bed. Now.”
“What about dinner?” Evie asked.
“You’re thirteen years old,” her mother snapped. “I think you can use a microwave.”
That night, Evie stayed awake watching James Goad interviews on her phone.
When Evie was in elementary school, her mother used to drop her off down the street at her friend Kaitlyn’s house before she’d leave. Evie and Kaitlyn would stay up and giggle even on school nights, and Kaitlyn’s mom would help them bake brownies in the kitchen. But then, as high school began, Madison and Layla moved to town. They sat next to Kaitlyn on the bus and during lunch, and, as hard as she tried, Evie couldn’t seem to fit herself into their conversations. A week after school started, Evie resigned to observing. Two weeks after school started, she told Kaitlyn that she felt left out, and though her friend said things would change, they never did. Three weeks after school started, Evie sat in her spot next to Kaitlyn on the bus.
“Do you have to sit here?” Kaitlyn asked.
“What do you mean? Aren’t we friends?” Evie said.
“We would be if you spoke to me.”
Evie didn’t reply and Kaitlyn, Layla, and Madison’s laughter began to sound gritty and high-pitched as it bounced around in her skull. The next morning, Evie sat in the very last seat on the bus.
A month after the fallout, Evie sat on her mother’s bed, watching her pack for a trip to Copenhagen.
“Have you talked to Kaitlyn yet?” her mother asked.
The words didn’t come out of Evie’s mouth when she tried to push them. “No,” she managed. “We’re not speaking.”
“You’ve known about this trip for nearly a month!” her mother said. “You couldn’t have told me that sooner? I have to find a babysitter for a week on a day’s notice. Do you understand how hard that will be?”
“I’m sorry,” Evie said. “I knew you’d be upset.”
Her mother sighed, closing her eyes and pressing her fingers to her temples.
Evie bit her lip.
“You’re fourteen,” she said finally. “That’s a little old for a babysitter anyway, don’t you think?”
That’s when the collection of phone numbers written on sticky notes and stuck on the strip of corkboard below the phone in the kitchen started. Her mother gave Evie her work cell number and Kaitlyn’s home phone (“I don’t really care what it is that happened between you two, but I’m sure her mother would be more than willing to drive you to school if you miss the bus,” she said as she stuck a thumbtack through the orange sticky note with Kaitlyn’s name and number). She also gave her the phone number for the hotel in Copenhagen. Over the next two years, hotel phone numbers pile on top of other hotel phone numbers and eventually, Evie’s mother forgets to give her any numbers at all. Evie rarely calls when her mother leaves, not after the first time.
It was 7:30 p.m, it was just getting dark, and Evie was scared. She was only just beginning to realize that though her house is not very large, the halls expand into huge, cold caverns without the sound of her mother’s acrylic nails tapping against her keyboard and her phone conversations seeping through the walls of her office.
So, she called her mother.
She didn’t answer the first time, so Evie dialed again, her breath picking up speed in her chest.
“What?” her mother snapped.
“I’m lonely?” Evie said.
“Evie, it’s two a.m. here,” her mother said. “This is my work cell. The only reason I gave you this number is so you could call if you had an emergency. Now, is anything actually wrong?”
“No,” Evie said.
“Goodnight,” her mother said and hung up.
The wave of nausea recedes, even dries up. Evie sits up taller. Holding her fleece blanket around her shoulders like a long, heavy cape, she makes her way across the hall to the bathroom. Maybe the water’s working again and she can get a drink.
She finds that the water isn’t working soon after she gets there. Two days ago, Evie forgot and flushed the toilet. When the water didn’t flow back in to fill up the basin, she realized that she made a mistake. Now, the bathroom smells of vomit, and pain begins to overwhelm Evie’s stomach just because she’s standing in the room. She doesn’t really feel like she’s about to throw up again, but now she’s thirsty. So thirsty that that’s painful too.
She remembers the hoard of water bottles her mother stockpiled in the downstairs fridge. She squeezes her eyes shut, imagining the trek down the staircase, the turn around the corner of the hallway, and the fridge right behind the doors of the pantry to her left. It’s not far. Not far at all. Evie feels well enough that she could probably make it to the pantry for a drink of water.
She makes it down the stairs without collapsing. Her blanket still draped over her shoulders, she clings to the handrail though the metal is so cold it hurts her hands. Turning the corner of the hallway, the pain hits her again and that’s when she collapses.
Everything is tight, as if someone is playing tug of war with her stomach and intestines.
The whole country knows about the snowstorm hitting the east coast. Gina Snyder, sitting on the bed of her Seattle hotel room has the local news channel turned to a low roar as she reads over her notes for tomorrow’s presentation.
“record snowfall in cities on the east coast from Nashville up to Boston--they’re receiving almost twenty-seven inches in our nation’s capital and the surrounding areas--the mayor of D.C. and the governors of nearly a dozen states have declared a state of emergency due to the dangerous conditions surrounding the blizzard” Gina looks up when she hears this, thinking of her daughter, Evie, who hasn’t called in two days.
Gina sighs and tucks her notes back into her folder. She dials the home phone and her own voice answers her. “You’ve reached the Snyders. We’re unable to come to the phone right now. If you’d like to leave a message—” Gina hangs up and tries Evie’s cell just in case. No answer there either.
Gina puts her phone back down on the bed. Evie is probably fine. She’s stayed on her own before. She knows how to take care of herself.
Lying on her back, Evie can’t do anything but stare into the hall light and let bright spots dance across her eyes. She groans and lets her eyes roll back away from it.
“How are you feeling?” James asks. He leans over her, shading her eyes from the brightness.
“Bad,” Evie says.
“I’m hot and cold and my stomach hurts.”
“Call someone,” he says.
“Call someone?” Evie repeats. She mutters something sounding like “mmm” and turns to press her face into the cool tile.
“Sit up,” James says.
Evie feels the warmth of his hands soak through the fabric of her sweatshirt and he pulls her back into a sitting position. Her blanket droops into a puddle on the floor. He holds her when she slumps.
“Call Kaitlyn,” James says again. His eyes are staring right into hers. They’re bright, maybe brighter than should be natural, and for a moment Evie feels content. He passes Evie the phone and faded orange sticky note. As Evie dials the number, static rattles in her ears.
“Hello?” Kaitlyn says as she picks up.
“Hi.” The word doesn’t come out. Evie clears her throat. “Hi. It’s Evie.”
“Why are you calling me?”
Evie doesn’t know what to say. She hears Layla talking loudly about some boy in her history class through Kaitlyn’s line. Madison laughs.
Oh. Evie feels something pushing on her throat and her heart running behind her ribs. She is fourteen again. She blinks and James is gone. The house is dark.
“Never mind,” Evie says. She pushes the phone away. It makes a rough skidding sound as it slides against the title.
Shaking, Evie lies back on the floor. As the cool tile burns her head, the light above her flips back on with a pop.
“You’ve got a fever?” James asks her.
He pulls her up again, and next thing she knows, there’s a beeping thermometer in her mouth.
“It’s 101.7,” James says, removing it from between her lips. “And if your heart rate’s elevated, your appendix has probably ruptured.”
“What’s that mean?” Evie asks, staring at her sweatshirt sleeve.
“Means you’re dead.”
When she looks up, he’s gone again and Evie feels much better. The hall is no longer so cold, but warm, the tiles like crackling candles beneath her.
Evie stands up and walks into the kitchen. Music dances into her ears from the living room. Her mother is making pancakes with berries and whipped cream, a special treat that Evie remembers from elementary and preschool. Evie’s mother smiles when she sees her and her father is sipping coffee at the kitchen table.
Evie hasn’t seen her father in twelve years. She doesn’t remember his name or what he looks like, but she knows him. He grins and puts his mug down when he sees her. He grabs her hands and guides her into the living room to dance playfully with her, spinning her around and around just like the Saturday mornings when Evie was little.
“Did you have a good week at school?” he asks after they’ve collapsed into the cushions of the couch.
“I finally got my chemistry test back. You know, the one I was studying for with Madison and Layla all of last week.”
Her father smiles. “I heard you laughing down in the basement. I’m not sure if I would call that studying. But how did you do?”
“We all got A’s! And yesterday, Madison invited me, Layla, and Kaitlyn over to her house to bake cookies and celebrate.”
“Good job, Evie,” he says. “We’re so proud of you.”
“Hello?” Kaitlyn says, holding the phone up to her ear.
“Kaitlyn?” Gina asks. She’s sitting in the lobby of the conference building. After Evie didn’t pick up after a second and third call, Gina decided she should probably take further action, and tried the Gales.
“Who is this?” Kaitlyn asks.
“Ms. Snyder. Evie’s mom.”
“Oh,” Kaitlyn says.
“I’ve been calling Evie and she hasn’t picked up. Do you think you could call her?”
“If she’s not picking up for you, she definitely won’t pick up for me,” Kaitlyn says.
“Do you think you could go check on her?” Gina asks. “I’m worried.”
There’s a pause. “I guess so,” Kaitlyn says.
Evie wakes up on the bathroom floor, the fading echo of a doorbell in her ears. She sees that the room is dark and gray as thick frost has built up on the windows patterned with cracking snowflakes. She feels her heart break from her chest and thud onto the tile over and over again. She sees her arms spread out in front of her, but somehow they aren’t hers. The coolness of the floor feels as if it is pressing against someone else’s skin. Her brain is melting, her skin is melting. She is cold and hot and nothing at all. Sticky fluid laps against her cheek and Evie wonders if she may have vomited. She breathes out and in and it hurts so much that Evie doesn’t even notice it hurting.
She sees James out of the corner of her eye, blending into the folds of the shower curtain, but she is too weak to turn her head.
“It’s okay, Evie,” James says. “I’m here. Join me.”
Evie wants to speak, she wants to tell him that she’s changed her mind, that she’s not ready, but her mouth, like the rest of her, is disappearing.