Evan Banks always came with the rain. He would show up, just after dinner, his shirt speckled and slick, and he would sit in our den and drink scotch with my father. A nightcap, he called it, as if that made it all right. As if that made him not sixteen.
The other thing Evan would do, that was even more disconcerting than the scotch drinking and the hanging out in other people's dens when he had his own perfectly good den to hang out in, was play the fiddle. I do not know a single sixteen-year-old boy in Redplain, Montana who knows how to play the fiddle. Although I expect if they did, they wouldn't brag about it -- especially those who are still counting on having their first sexual experience before they graduate. So what do I know? Maybe all the boys in Redplain, Montana are secret scotch-drinking, fiddle-playing prodigies. But if they are, they don't come to our house. Only Evan comes to our house, and he's as regular as the rain.
Evan left Texas during his first year of high school. It was his first class of his first day of his first year, and he didn't make it to his second class. He just got up and walked out, leaving his notebook open on his desk. There are a lot of stories Evan tells about his trip from Texas to Redplain, about how he had to hitchhike, and how he had to fight off an alligator with a stick and how once he got picked up by a bakery truck and the driver gave him a free hand with the pastries in the back and he ate so much that he fell asleep in New Mexico and didn't wake up until Wyoming, but I won't go into them because I think most of them are lies. I think, probably, all of them are lies, only if they are, I'm not sure how he got from Texas to Montana.
And then, and this I know for sure is a lie: Evan got dropped off at the fork where West Peak Road branches off into Larryington Avenue. Stay on West Peak and you'll hit Casing, but Larryington will take you to Redplain. Evan says the driver let him off just at dusk, when there was still light but you couldn't tell where it was coming from and the dust in the road rose up a little on the breeze. In the middle of West Peak Road there was a turtle and in the middle of Larryington Avenue -- smack dab in the middle -- was a lynx, and that's how Evan knew which road to take, which road would lead him right to Redplain, right to his mother's house where she kept her new family and her new Camry, and, eventually, right to our front porch during the first rain of the season.
I know it's a lie because there aren't any lynxes in this part of Montana, and even if there were that'd be no way to choose a direction especially if you had an iPhone which I know Evan does, though he never seems to use it. But my father, he liked the story. He said, when Evan told it to him, "That's right, son, the turtle, that would have served you fine, but it wasn't your destiny. Your destiny is here with us," and then he pointed above the fireplace where we have this giant portrait of a lynx and her two cubs on a mountain ledge that my aunt painted, and Evan gasped, and Father was smug which was overdoing it quite a bit I thought because there isn't a house in Redplain that doesn't have some sort of photograph or painting of wildlife in their den, if not the animal itself tanned and stuffed.
But as soon as Evan saw the painting, he was lost to us. He went over and stood beneath the mother lynx, his head tilted back, and everyone was silent, and then he turned to my father and said, "You're right. This is my destiny." And his gaze went once around the room to take in our whole family: Father, bearded and tall and only a little paunchy, leaning casually on the mantle trying to balance his excitement against the gravity he felt the moment deserved; Mother, with Celia in her arms, smiling because she felt in some roundabout way we were all finally giving her artist sister her dues; and me, Clare McDougal, with shower-damp hair and dressed in rather embarrassing plaid pajamas because I had not expected anyone to come by the house so late at night, and especially in that rain.
We didn't see Evan again for two weeks. A storm brought down a few dozen trees and a power line and we were sitting around the table, surrounded by candlesticks and flashlights, eating Beefaroni from the can, when we heard the doorbell. We thought it was a family come to stay out the night. Mother works for the Red Cross and our house is first on the volunteer host list for people who need a place to stay if their house has caught fire, or flooded, or been cleaved in half by a falling redwood. But it was Evan, soaked through, hair plastered to his forehead, and smiling like he had just cheated death.
Father let him in and mumbled something about how he should have known that Evan was coming because he had had a strange dream the night before and he had felt off all day until right when he opened the door and saw the boy standing there. Father is a dream therapist and takes his dreams very seriously. He used to take my dreams very seriously too until he found out I was making them up.
"Evan, why don't you come down to the den? I'll see if I have any dry clothes for you and if that doesn't do it, I've got something else that will warm you right up, my boy," he said, walking over to the bar and taking two glasses from the cabinet.
Father always liked to direct us down to the den whenever Evan came over. I think he considered it the site of his triumph, since that is where we keep the lynx painting. Mother usually comes down for a few minutes until Celia gets fussy and then she goes to put her to bed. Father and Evan take up the chairs in front of the fire and I watch from the stairs so that I can leave whenever I want without asking permission or disturbing them. I can see their profiles from where I sit, through the vertical bars of the banister, as they lean forward to talk to each other, the fire behind them casting their faces in backlight. They talk about dream things, spirit animals, the soul and the hero's journey. They talk about death most of all, and that seems to please them.
When they are done talking, Evan takes out his fiddle. Sometimes he sings, and sometimes he just plays, while I lean back on the steps and Father stares into the fire, sipping his scotch.
The last time I saw Evan was three months ago. It wasn't a storm, this night, but a soft drizzle. When I opened the door after dinner, Evan was standing there, his shirt flecked around his shoulders and a few beads of water in his hair. He smiled and my mother smiled and everyone smiled except me because I had physics homework and I didn't appreciate what seemed an unnecessary and callous show of cheerfulness. I did not stay to listen to them talk that night and it wasn't until I heard the music that I finally gathered up my pencil, notebook and textbook and brought them down to the staircase in the den.
Father looked like he might be asleep, his glass balanced precariously on his knee in his cupped hand, his head back against the cushions. But Evan didn't seem to mind. He played a few quick numbers, winking at me, and then he played something slow and sad, which I hadn't known you could do with a fiddle, but it was sad, in a heartbreaking way, and then he put his fiddle away.
"Hey, little dove," he said. Little dove, Evan and Father had decided one evening, was my spirit animal. They had given everyone a spirit animal. They had begun with Mom and Celia (a horse and a swan); then they did the neighbors; then, as the evening had progressed and along with it their consumption of scotch, they had broadened their scope to include the mailman (a buffalo), the landlady (a moth), and our dog (a rabbit, which if you knew her, would actually make a lot of sense).
I looked up from my problem set. His voice sounded strange in the hallowed silence after the music, and I found it even stranger that he was talking to me, since he usually only talked to Mother and Father. But I guess since Father was asleep Evan had had to make some compromises. "Did you know I'm moving?"
I put my pencil down in the fold of the open book. "Where to?"
"Why are you moving?"
"Mom has a friend there. We're going to live with him, I think."
"Just you and your mom?"
"And my sisters."
There was silence and I wished he hadn't put away the fiddle.
He wasn't lying about moving. I saw the trucks parked out in front of his house way down at the end of our street. Then the trucks were gone, and Evan with them. I kept waiting for the rains, to see if he would show up at our front door anyway, half-wet and bright-eyed, but the thing is, it hasn't rained in three months.