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The Collie

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Evan Hansen is sitting alone at the Murphy’s kitchen counter, nursing a glass of water.

 

Zoe’s been having A Day. A stressful one. Band practice has been kind of taxing lately; they’ve got a concert on in a month, and half the teachers in the music department have been out with the flu, meaning rehearsals have either been cancelled, or run by subs who have no idea what they’re doing. Which means Zoe’s been having to learn her solo with little to no direction. On top of that, she’s got a Biology test on Friday that she’s not at all prepared for, an English paper to write, and, for the cherry on top, she popped a button on her favorite shirt at lunch and had to walk around all afternoon with it safety pinned together.

 

So when she gets home, wrestling her guitar through the kitchen doorway, she feels a flash of irritation to see Connor’s apparent new best friend, who’s barely ever spoken a word to her, sitting in her kitchen all by himself, scrolling idly on his phone with one hand and fidgeting with his shirt with the other.

 

It’s not that Zoe dislikes Evan, exactly. She just…doesn’t know him, because they don't really talk. And when he does make an attempt to speak to her he stumbles over every other word, and apologizes about fifty times per sentence, and Zoe’s not sure she has the energy right now, and that makes her feel a stab of guilt. It’s not Evan’s fault; anyone with half a brain could see he’s clearly got some sort of anxiety disorder.

 

So now Zoe’s feeling tired and irritated and impatient and guilty.

 

And on top of all that, she doesn’t really trust Evan. Because why would a shy, awkward, generally sweet guy like Evan be hanging around her brother so often?

 

What are his real motivations?

 

Tired and irritated and impatient and guilty and suspicious, then.

 

Zoe really wants a nap.

 

“Connor’s not here,” She says rudely.

 

Evan jumps at the sound of her voice; his phone clatters to the floor. He quickly picks it up, glances over the screen for cracks, and pockets it.

 

“Y-yeah, I’m just, uh. Waiting for him. Sorry.”

 

Zoe stares at him, expecting a bit more of an explanation than that, because who just sits in their friend’s house when said friend isn’t there?

 

“Your mom let me in,” Evan adds.

 

“You poor thing,” Zoe says, in an unaffected monotone. “Was she a nightmare?”

 

“No! No, your mom’s…she’s great.”

 

Zoe’s pretty sure Evan’s only saying that to be polite. She folds her arms over her chest.

 

“If you’re into unhinged Martha Stewart types, maybe.”

 

Evan laughs uncomfortably and rubs the back of his neck. Goes back to fidgeting with the shirt. Zoe can see loose threads dangling along the hem from where he’s picked at it too much.

 

He seems kind of intimidated by her, kind of scared, and god, why is Zoe being so mean? It’s totally unfair to take her crappy day out on Evan.

 

“Connor’s not here,” she says again, trying very hard to sound like less of an asshole this time. “He’s at therapy. It’s his first session today.”

 

“Yeah, I…I know. That’s um. Kind of why I’m here?”

 

Zoe doesn’t understand. She raises an eyebrow at him.

 

Evan takes in a deep breath, lets it out.

 

“Starting therapy can be, well. A lot. You meet a total stranger and you’re expected to just explain everything that needs to be fixed, tell them all your problems just like that, problems you might have bottled up for years and years, your whole life maybe, and it’s. It’s a lot.”

 

Evan sounds like he’s speaking from experience. It’s the most he’s ever said to Zoe in one go, and it’s honest and open and raw.

 

Zoe feels awful.

 

“And…and it’s probably even a lot if you’ve got a therapist that you like. But not everyone finds someone they, um. Gel with right away. S-some therapists really suck, to be honest. And some of them don’t suck, but they just…aren’t the right fit for you, if that makes sense? And I mean, I hope that’s not the case for Connor, I really really hope it’s not. I hope Dr Amery’s nice. I really do. I mean, shit, if she is maybe I should ask Connor if she’s taking on more new clients. Would it-would it be weird for us both to be seeing the same therapist?” He chuckles awkwardly, then rubs the back of his neck again.

 

Zoe can’t help but smile a little at this, and actually finds herself thinking it over. Evan apparently misreads her silence, because he stammers, “That was…a weird thing to ask you, I’m sorry,” and shifts uncomfortably in his seat.

 

Zoe resists the urge to tell him not to apologize, because she’s picking up that it seems to be something beyond his control.

 

“I mean, they have patient confidentiality and all that, right? It’s not like she’d be telling Connor all your secrets,” Zoe says.  

 

 

“I don’t have any secrets from Connor,” Evan says simply.

 

 

Evan’s eyes have gone all soft, and for the tiniest of moments, there’s not a hint of anxiety in his demeanor. He looks comfortable, actually comfortable in his own skin, and he’s far away, like he’s watching a movie in his head.

 

As quickly as the moment comes, it passes, and he visibly shakes himself out of it as he remembers where he is and who he’s taking to.

 

“I guess what I’m saying is…I just wanted to make sure someone was there for him. That he had someone to talk to, afterwards. Someone who’s, um. Who’s…um…been there. Done all that. Someone who gets it. Not that I’m an expert or, or anything…”

 

And Zoe suddenly feels like an absolute bitch, because she’d never even thought about any of this. She’d been so focused on the idea that her brother was getting help, he was getting fixed, and what that could mean for her, that she hadn’t even considered that this was going to be…a process. And that Connor was probably going to find it overwhelming and crushing and difficult.

 

And Evan’s still rambling, stammering, “I mean obviously if he’s not like. Glad to see me and he gets home and just wants to be left alone that’s fine, too. If he tells me to go, I’ll go, that’s fine, everyone deals with stuff in different ways, and I—”

 

“What’s your deal with Connor, anyway?”

 

“My…deal?”

 

Zoe suddenly just wants to get it all out in the open. She just has to know.

 

“Why are you friends with him? Because I mean, let’s face it. He’s mean and rude and…and just, abrasive. And don’t give me that ‘oh, but there’s more to him than that' shit. Because there might be, but he’s still an asshole. So…so why go looking for more? Why bother?”

 

Evan gets a sort of meditative look on his face, and purses his lips as he tries to find the right words.

 

“OK, so…I don’t know if you know this, but I worked as an apprentice park ranger over the summer, at Ellison State Park. Trees are…kind of my thing. And every day was pretty much the same, which was great for me, to be honest, because changes to routine kind of freak me out sometimes? But anyway, this one day, there was this dog, loose in the park.”

 

“What kind?”

 

Zoe can’t help but ask. She’s a dog person, through and through. Evan smiles warmly.

 

“A Collie. He was all matted and dirty, and looked like he’d been on his own for a long time, but he was still really pretty…” Evan suddenly flushes scarlet, gives his head a little shake, and Zoe gets the impression that he’d not meant to say that out loud.

 

She wonders if Evan’s still talking about a dog.

 

“Anyway, the senior rangers I worked with got an alert about this dog. He didn’t seem to belong to anybody, and some visitors had called it in because he was really aggressive. He’d kind of backed himself into this corner, and some kids had tried to pet him—”

 

“Which is stupid. Bad parenting,” Zoe interjects.

 

“Right though? And this dog just went crazy, growling and barking, and kind of went for them with his teeth bared.”

 

“Jesus,” Zoe breathes.

 

“Yeah. Luckily nobody was hurt. But it turned out that this dog had messed up his leg on a fence. It was all torn up and bloody.” Zoe must have a look of absolute horror on her face, because Evan rushes to add, “The vets managed to save the leg, it’s OK!”

 

Zoe lets out a little ‘phew’ and Evan laughs softly.

 

“The point is, is that the dog wasn’t aggressive just for the sake of being aggressive. He wasn’t like. A bad dog. He was just scared, and hurting, and didn’t know who to trust. When the rangers came to get him he went totally ballistic, even though they were just trying to help him but he didn’t know that. All he knew was that he was…he was in pain, and he was just trying to protect himself from getting hurt more.”

 

Oh.

 

 

Oh, shit.

 

 

“Evan?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You’re like…really smart, you know that? And like. A really good fucking person.”

 

 

Zoe realizes she means it, too.

 

 

“Not really, I just. I don’t think any dogs are bad dogs, that’s all.”

 

“You are absolutely wrong, but go off,” Zoe says coolly, planting her hands on her hips, and Evan begins to laugh.

 

“Oh yeah? Name one deliberately and maliciously bad dog.”

 

“Ren. From Ren and Stimpy.”

 

Evan grins widely, shaking his head and chuckling as he goes, “OK, you’ve got me there.”

 

“Not just there. You’re wrong about something else, too,” Zoe says smugly.

 

“I am?”

 

“You said you don’t have any secrets from Connor. But that’s a lie.”

 

“…No?” Evan looks confused. Nervous.

 

“Yep. You have one secret from him.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“You like him.”

 

 

Evan’s face flushes, and he suddenly seems to find his shoelaces very interesting. He shuffles uncomfortably, shaking his head as he stares at the ground. He tries to laugh, but it falls flat.

 

 

“N-no…no, I…He’s my friend.

 

“Nobody uses wounded dog metaphors to describe a friend, Evan. And definitely nobody gets that look on their face when talking about a friend. Yep, that look. That one right there.”

 

 

Evan brings his hands to his cheeks, either to cool them or to hide his blush. He looks so embarrassed Zoe thinks maybe she’s gone too far. He seems like he might burst into tears.

 

“I..I don’t—”

 

 

He buries his face in his hands completely, hanging his head, like a child playing hide-and-seek. He’s silent for a long time, and when he finally speaks, the words are meek and frightened and barely-there quiet, muffled by his palms.

 

 

“…Please don’t say anything to him.”

 

 

“Of course I won’t. But you should.”

 

“I don’t want…I mean, he doesn’t…” Evan’s shaking his head again, his hands balling into frustrated fists as his arms drop helplessly to his sides.

 

“He does. So, wrong about three things. I take back what I said, you’re not that fucking smart.”

 

 

Evan is staring at Zoe, still red-faced and nervous, but with an awed look in his eyes.

 

Zoe doesn’t think she’s ever seen anyone look so hopeful in her life.

 

“He…he does?”

 

“Well, I can’t confirm 100%, to be fair. But he gets that same face, sometimes. I’m pretty sure it’s only when he’s texting you. And he blushes a lot every time mom asks about you.”

 

“He…he…”

 

 

Zoe’s hit with a momentary concern that Evan might pass out. She’s not entirely sure how to help if someone passes out. Is it recovery position, or is that for seizures?

 

 

“And you don’t notice it, but he stares at you in the hallways. Like, all the time. It would be cute if it wasn’t. Y’know. My brother.”

 

Evan can’t seem to find any words to say. Good thing Zoe can. She’s kind of enjoying this, if she’s honest.

 

“He likes you. I’d bet money on it. He totally likes you. It’s the most obvious thing in the world.”

 

 

Evan’s still standing there, red-faced and shaking, his mouth opening and closing like a goldfish. She waits for him to say something, but he doesn’t. So Zoe shrugs, feigns nonchalance, hoists her guitar over her shoulders and starts heading upstairs.

 

The second her back is to Evan she finds she can’t wipe the grin from her face.

 

“Wait, you can’t go now!” Evan yelps.

 

Zoe’s halfway up the stairs, and turns back to face him. He still looks flabbergasted, comically so, his eyes wide and astonished and his fingers tugging at his shirt with newfound fervor.

 

“What am I meant to do with this information? You have to help me. I have anxiety, Zoe!

 

Zoe bites the inside of her cheek to stop herself from giggling.

 

“Well, “ Zoe says, managing a casual tone of voice, “He’s probably not gonna be home for another hour or so. Come sit with me. We can spitball some ideas.”

 

“Ideas?”

 

“Operation Dog Adoption,” She says. She smiles at him in a way that she hopes is encouraging, then turns on her heel and continues up the stairs.

 

And Evan, not unlike a puppy dog himself, scampers after her.