Abby Giles sees the news van first, while smoking a cigarette on the roof of Pearville High.
It's around one in the afternoon on Monday, and the rain clouds have vanished, and she's hiding from meddlesome girls who keep approaching her and gushing about how “bad” they feel and how “sorry” they are. It's not that she doesn't appreciate the attention (she does) but she knows for a fact they don't feel bad or sorry. She correctly senses that everybody expects her to shatter at the mere mention of Mae or Ethan—who are, of course, today's primary topics of conversation. But weeping is not Abby's style. Yes, she saw the video at home on Saturday night after leaving Ethan's party in a huff (due to Ethan's flirting, most egregiously with Mae but also with no fewer than four fellow cheerleaders) and yes, Abby played it over and over in an orgy of panic and self-loathing she would soon rather forget, but she will give nobody the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
The van drifts down Pearville Avenue and turns onto Lincoln, heading straight for the school. Abby thinks nothing of it. Despite having all of Sunday to process the bad news, it still feels unprocessed. Of course Ethan slipped up (in the most humiliating way) but everybody makes mistakes. One unfortunate incident caught on tape doesn't necessarily rule out the possibility of marriage and babies in the future; they're only eighteen, after all. They have their entire lives ahead of them. After it happened, her friend Maddie texted: aren't you glad that's not you in the video? But Abby's relief was tinged with jealousy. She's glad to not be all over the internet while inexplicably wishing she were all over the internet. It's complicated.
She checks her phone. Last year, enterprising student smokers created an app to track when school employees monitor the roof—by far the best five dollars Abby ever spent. It indicates eleven minutes left of freedom, so she freezes when she hears the heavy door creak open just out of sight from her place in the corner. Whoever it is knows the protocol, knows to swiftly kick a rock between the door frame to hold the door slightly ajar.
It's Shelby Cho. Shelby clutches books to her chest and creeps around suspiciously—waiting to be caught, no doubt.
“It's just us up here,” Abby assures her.
“Just my luck.”
Abby takes the high road. “Want a cigarette?”
“No thank you.” Shelby's voice is barely audible. She sets her books on the ledge and peers across the street. “What's going on down there?” A news van, a pioneer, isn't sure where to park. After a few laps around the school parking lot, it settles in front of the bank. The driver slides out and cracks his back.
“I know what you're thinking,” Abby says, “but you're just as connected to this disaster through her as I am through him.” Uttering disaster feels like a release. “Because that's what it is: a disaster.” The word slides around Abby's tongue and lips and teeth. “It's the end of the world up here, Shelby. Time to make amends.”
Figures below scuttle in and out of the news van like ants. “What are you talking about?”
Abby shoves smoke up her lungs and out her mouth. She is on a roll; the voice of maturity; a philosopher with a manicure. “I know you still hate me for making out with Jasper O'Toole at that Halloween party. Don't you?”
Shelby watches the ants unfurl a tripod. “I don't know about hate...”
“Well, I'm sorry. I knew you had a thing for him and I shouldn't have done that. I was a very immature freshman.”
“It's nothing, Abby. Everybody makes mistakes when they're young.”
Across the street, a hefty camera is hoisted onto the tripod. More people emerge from sliding doors. It goes without saying that the days of making mistakes without consequence are over—if they ever existed.