The Devil I Know
It was time. The train announcements had come and gone. Both the prerecorded message and the conductor’s real-time addendum had already blared out to our awaiting ears. Honestly, it’s a wonder that wasn’t enough to wake up Evi before I was supposed to. No wonder she’d asked me for help here. The train car trundled along, and the world outside our windows gradually began to slow as we settled into its last stop. Our stop. The end of the line.
Okay, Rin, let’s do this. Just have to wake her up. That’s all. I bent forward slightly in my seat to make sure my voice would reach her.
“Excuse me,” I whisper-yelled. “Evi, we made it to our stop.”
No good. I think that was actually quieter than my normal speaking voice. Okay. Louder. Go louder. I squeezed my backpack as though it were a bellows, hoping to force the air out of my lungs.
“...Evi!” It came out like a gasp. But it was louder. Still, it didn’t work.
Never mind. Let’s just go closer instead.
I stood up and tiptoed over to her. Although I guess maybe I should have stomped over there instead.
I hesitated, and then gave her shoulder a tentative nudge. Volume alone simply wasn’t going to work for me.
“Evi, I’m sorry but we need to get off the train now.”
Her eyes creaked open.
“You’re still here?”
“Um, yes. That was, I mean, that was the plan, right?”
“I’m joking. Thank you for waking me up.” She began to rub the sleep from her eyes, but then stopped. “That ‘thank you’ was sincere.”
“You got that. Right?” she said, a note of concern in her voice.
“Yes. Yeah. Of course. Yeah.”
When Evi rose from her seat, I saw that her full height had her at about a half-head taller than myself. Well, one and a half heads taller, if you counted the horns. Does it make sense to count the horns? I mean they are part of her body. I suppose the question is, are the horns the top of her head, or are they merely on top of her head? As I pondered this for a second, Evi turned back to me.
“Yeah, sorry. Just thinking.”
We stepped off the metal contraption and out onto the awaiting platform. A moment after we did, a railway employee entered the car ready to shuffle off any straggling passengers.
“Excuse me,” I mumbled. In that instant I was incredibly glad I had managed to wake Evi on my own. It would have been really embarrassing if I’d had to ask for help with such an easy task.
Although, waking sleeping passengers is part of his job, so maybe it wouldn’t be that bad?
No. It would be pretty bad.
The bright lights of the railway station awning cast us in a protective dome, shielded from the darkness just beyond it. Past its illuminated border were only the thin outlines of trees, telephone wires, and distant apartments. Footsteps echoing, the two of us moved into the larger station building. As we passed through the door into the hallway, the clomping of our shoes turning to sharper taps as the concrete switched to tile. Nothing but us, the walls, the floors, and—
“You like tea, right?” she asked.
“Uh, yea. And you like anything sweet?”
“Aww, you remembered,” she smirked, “that’s sweet.”
“I’m not dumb.”
“We’ve established that already, yes.”
I huffed a bit, puffing out my cheeks in a way that I hoped read as intentionally goofy. Having acted out my segment of the pantomime, I brought my attention back to the vending machine in front of me. There were two actually, side by side. I had gravitated naturally to the one on the right, and she had taken the left.
Something sweet. Something sweet? I stared at the metal box as if for the very first time. Things that are sweet. Drinks. Um. Hmm.
I heard a tumbling sound, then saw Evi reach down.
“There you go. One green tea.”
She handed me the bottle. It felt cool in my palm, slick with condensation. I watched as she placed her change into a small cloth wallet, and then carefully put that back into her skirt pocket. It looked like a pretty nice wallet. Handmade.
“Take your time deciding. No need to rush,” she said. It sounded genuine.
I decided to rush.
Quickly scanning the multitude of options, I saw a fruit-shaped mascot and pressed the button. I then grabbed my IC card, tapped it on the card reader, and shoved it back into my bag with one smooth motion. Hopefully this one was good.
“Cool. Apple juice is my favorite,” Evi remarked.
“Yes. Yes, I did guess.”
“Well you were right. Truly these are the deductive skills of the school’s 12th ranked student.”
“You remembered that?”
“Yeah,” she replied through a wry half smile, “I’m not dumb either.”
As we moved over to a bench, she continued.
“Plus, it wasn’t that long of a train ride. I took a nap, I didn’t enter a 7 year coma.”
When she said that, I remembered. 12:12 AM. I dug my phone out of my backpack to check it again. All right. It seems like it’s still working normally. So then it probably was a glitch when I checked earlier.
“What’s wrong? Do you not like green tea?”
“Oh, uh. Yeah. I like green tea. I just, I probably shouldn’t drink too much of it right now though. It’s got caffeine, y’know?”
“Ah. Sorry. Do you want some juice?”
“Thanks, but I’m okay.”
I tried to distract my own thoughts. Despite the evidence, my nerves had yet to settle completely. I placed the phone onto my lap, then cracked open the bottle and took a sip. A very light sweetness, with vegetal notes and a slight astringency that really does help wake you up.
Which, considering the hour, is maybe not a positive?
“So you like green tea. But is it your favorite tea? You got me in one, so I would like to know how I did in comparison. Not that it’s a competition.”
“Right. Well, uh. There are a lot of different varieties of tea—“
“That already sounds like a no.”
“No, it’s not a no. It’s, uh, It’s just that there are many different types of tea. You’ve got your green, white, yellow, black, oolong, and post-fermented, which are all grown from the same plant by the way. Then there are herbal teas, herbal blends, and so on and so on. There are different varieties of all these teas grown from different cultivars and regions. Whether things are shade-grown or not also effects things, what time they’re picked, i.e. first flush, second, etc. Then how you actually prepare it also affects the turnout, so um, y’know… it’s complicated.”
She was looking at me intently.
“Although, yes. I would have to say that while I’m not sure if it is my favorite, exactly… Green tea is probably almost definitely the one I’ve had the most. Yes.”
“Um. Sorry, if, uh, if that was too much. I don’t mean to bore you, or, uh—“
“You’re not boring me. Learning about teas isn’t exactly my thing but, it’s…” she trailed off. Then gestured vaguely in my direction.
“It’s interesting. To see you talk so confidently about something.”
Her voice turned somber.
“And you weren’t doing anything wrong, so you don’t have to apologize. If you were bothering me I would have told you. I have no problem telling people to leave me alone.”
She honestly is really nice. My darkened phone stared back at me.
I shook it off.
“But seriously, when you said you liked tea, I didn’t realize you liked tea that much. You’re like a tea expert or something.”
“Oh no. No, no, no. No. I am not a tea expert. And I am certainly not a tea master. I am simply a tea enthusiast. I’m a tea hobbyist really, at most a tea novice.”
“I currently exist in a very dangerous knowledge state, in that I know enough to make myself overconfident, but not enough to actually be consistently correct.”
“I mean, in the past I was always an occasional tea drinker. Then around middle school, I started to get really into tea for a little bit.”
“It’s supposed to help with stress, and nervousness, and all of those other things that describe me really accurately.”
“But then, like, I got really caught up in trying to drink tea the right way. Learn all about tea. Know the correct way of drinking, pouring, preparing tea. Harvesting tea. For some reason.”
“It’s not like I planned to ever harvest tea, but I was, uh, harvesting information about tea. I guess. And the whole thing got weirdly stressful.”
“Isn’t tea supposed to be calming?”
“Yeah, it is. That’s why I’m the calmest person I know.”
“You’re the calmest person you know.”
“Yeah. Everyone else is basically just screaming constantly. Not even words, just loud noises. You’re in for a very stressful first day of school tomorrow.”
“I will… keep that in mind,” she nodded politely.
“Okay, but in all seriousness. I did get really into tea for a while, and then kind of burned myself out on the more intricate aspects of it. I still enjoy it on a personal level though. Like, it’s just nice.”
“That might be the healthier option for you.”
Her smile is really pretty.
But in the back of my head, a nagging thought was growing. I was going to ask her about when she got on the train. That was the plan right? I should do it right? Maybe not. Maybe. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But before I could ask, she asked something first.
“Hey. Speaking of things we got into during middle school, do you want to see something?”
Her sleepy eyes brightened, and that small smile got ever so slightly larger at the corners of her lips.
She stood up, reached her hands into her skirt pockets and—
“Wait a minute. You have pockets. Your skirt has pockets. Like, plural! As in more than one!” I was in shock.
Our school uniform skirt normally had one pocket on the left side, which was already pretty nice, but this was two pockets. Twice the number of pockets. Double the pocket space.
“Symmetry is very important to me,” she explained.
I tried desperately not to stare at her horns.
“Symmetry is very important to you?” I asked, not breaking eye contact.
“Yep,” she beamed, “and something else that’s just as important is…”
She pulled out the cloth wallet. Wait.
“Did you make that?”
“Thank you, thank you.”
“That is really cool.”
“And a third time, thank you. Do you want to hold it?”
“Are you sure?”
She rolled her eyes.
“No, I’m not sure. I’m really worried that you’re going to steal my wallet right in front of me. The one thing that I’ve learned from our conversation tonight is that you are an actual criminal thug.”
“Okay, okay. Sure, sarcasm. I get it. I just don’t want to damage it.”
“You’re fine. Check it out. Don’t be afraid to look inside either. I trust you.”
She handed me the wallet. The inside and bottom were a dark blue, while the top and outside clasp were white. There was a red heart on the back. I don’t sew, but it seemed well made to me. Lacking proper sewing terminology, I defaulted back to my previous compliment.
“This is really cool.”
“Thanks.” Her stance faltered, “It actually is a little sloppy though. It’s not exactly as rigid as a wallet is supposed to be. Before this I’d only done alterations to clothes. After the horns came in I didn’t want to just throw away my hats, and then I just branched out from there. This wallet is my biggest sewing project so far, and I do like how it came out even if it is a little slack.”
“I know I keep saying it but that is sincerely really cool. Like, it’s very impressive, and creative. And, I mean also, a flexible wallet’s not a bad thing necessarily. A wallet that can, like, fold up, could be nice. Take up less space.”
“Hah. Yeah. That’s what everyone looks for in a wallet. Foldability.”
“Origami wallets? New business idea maybe?”
“Eh. That might already be a thing.”
I gave her back the wallet, wary not to ruin her biggest project.
“Thank you for returning the hostage to me safely,” she bowed and slipped it back into her pocket.
“Hey Evi. Actually, uh, are we allowed to modify the school uniform like that? I mean, I think it’s really cool, but—“
“I have no idea. I haven’t been there yet.”
A lull in the conversation. There was silence as we sipped on our respective drinks. My phone weighed heavy on my lap.
I didn’t want to ruin things, but I’d pushed back the question long enough. It was now or never.
“So, um. Evi?”
“This may sound like a weird question… but when did you get on the train?”
“What? A while ago, I guess.” She shrugged. ”I figure probably not long after you got there.”
“Did you see me when you got on?”
“Yeah. I saw you. You have white hair.”
I know it was innocuous, but even so the comment caused me to stumble for a second.
“Rin, are you okay?”
“Yeah. Sorry. I- Okay one last question, if you don’t mind.”
“Sure… I don’t really get what’s going on here, but okay.”
“When I went up to talk to you the first time. Did you notice anything weird happen?” I tried my best to give a knowing look. Not accusatory, just, aware.
“Weird how? Like, you being nervous? Again, I’m telling you Rin. You were fine. I was worried you were going to judge me so I acted like a jerk. You did nothing wrong.”
Her eyes. Her voice. We hadn’t known each other long, but I felt how candid she was being right now. Kind, caring, sincere.
I wanted to tell her what I saw. I wanted to be as genuine as she was.
She deserved it.
I didn’t know how.
“Thanks, Evi. Yeah. Sorry.” I sighed. “It can be hard to believe someone when they say nice things about me. I know that’s not okay, but I’m working on it.”
I gave her a weary smile.
“Rin, I know it’s not easy. I really do… After all, I transferred for a reason.” She gave a half-hearted laugh. “Self-confidence isn’t always easy, but it is something you can learn.”
“And sometimes, when you’re alone… you really need it.”
“Hey, see, now it’s my turn to be weird—”
“Thank you. But I am going to choose to be weird right now. Everyone is sometimes.” The certainty returned to her voice. “Now, you wanted to ask me a weird question, I think it’s only fair that I get to ask one too.”
“Can I have your phone number?”
“What?” Legitimate surprise.
“Can I have your phone number?” Legitimately serious.
“OH! Yeah. Yeah! Sure. Can I have yours?”
We swapped phones and added each other to our contacts. I had typed in a smiley after my name, and immediately deleted it. She had again given only one name. Evi.
My phone buzzed twice. A text message. No, two, actually. One was a confirmation sent from Evi.
The other was my mom.
Mother: Rin, why haven’t you messaged me yet? Are you back? You know I don’t like you being out this late. I had to stop for gas, but I should be able to meet you at the train station soon. Let me know when you get this.
Me: Okay. Sorry. Talking to a friend. Got it.
I looked back up from my phone.
“Hey Evi, my mother’s going to be here to pick me up soon. Do you want me to ask her if we could give you a ride? It’s pretty late.”
She hesitated. Her right hand flinched upwards, and as if in response she shoved both down into her pockets.
“I can wait with you until she gets here, but I think I’ll head out on my own. My new place isn’t too far from here.”
Mother: A friend? Oh that’s wonderful! Do I know them? I knew you’d make some friends in high school.
Then a slight, worrying silence that I knew would be followed by—
Mother: Why are they out so late? Are they from your school or did you meet them in the city? Are they a boy or a girl? Please be safe.
Me: I am safe. She’s from school.
That was technically true.
Mother: I’m so glad the kids are being nicer to you now. It’s great that you’re getting along. You’re really starting to fit in!
Me: Thanks. Talk to you later.
Mother: See you soon.
Evi was on her phone too. Maybe she was texting her own parents. Maybe I shouldn’t bother her. No. I’m not bothering her. Maybe.
“Yeah Rin. What’s up?”
“I know our weird question ratio is off-balance in my favor right now. But can I please just have one more?”
“That was already a question, but go ahead.”
I felt a pit in the bottom of my stomach.
“Do you actually like me? Or do you pity me?” I winced even before the words had left my mouth.
She looked at me with deadly seriousness.
“I like you,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Like I said before. You’re sweet. I like sweet.”
We waited there for a time. Not too long, only a few minutes I think. It was nice. I finished my drink. She finished hers. My mother sent a text before she arrived. Evi decided to leave before meeting my mom. She said that wasn’t the reason, but I felt like it might have been. We said our goodbyes, and I watched Evi walk off into the vast darkness. Almost dissolving in the inky night. Only the back of her shirt, and her gleaming white horns stayed clear, but eventually those too fell out of sight.
When my mother pulled up she was disappointed that she couldn’t meet my first real school friend. I said something or other about how, “She lives really close by, and she had to get home.” I could tell from her eyes that mom was worried, but I didn’t know what to say.
I climbed into the back of the small boxy vehicle that was our car, and we drove off. For a moment, I almost started to wonder if Evi was even real. Or maybe she was real, but the horns were fake. I hadn’t checked. I just… believed her.
A girl with horns. A girl who stops time when you’re around. Hmm.
My phone buzzed.
Evi: This was one of the nicest conversations I’ve had in a long time.
Me: You need higher standards.
Evi: And you need to learn how to take a compliment.
Me: Sorry. And thank you.
Evi: Thank you. And sorry.
I smiled. I hope she smiled too.