Before Ethan arrives and joins him in his cell, Jasper has plenty of time to think about why he is here and then think about it some more.
He was arrested at home—his video game forever paused at level ten—in one of those calm, civil exchanges usually reserved for white collar workers, and taken to police headquarters. The officers were chatty and casual. They handed him a phone and he called his mother, out with her girlfriends and not picking up her phone. On messages he left for her and Shelby, Jasper tried to sound chatty and casual, too.
When Officer Mike opens the metal door to deposit Ethan, Jasper motions to the adjacent, empty cell and asks why they have to be placed together. “We might get a dangerous guy in here later,” Mike responds. “You wouldn't want to share a cell with him, would you?” So instead Jasper faces Ethan and at first they say nothing.
Jasper has been expecting this. He's slumped over while Ethan can't sit still: standing up; sitting back down; pacing around and peering out the bars—as if movement will shed some light on the situation. After a few minutes, the questions begin. “What's your bullshit charge?”
“Distributing child pornography.”
“Hold up. What?”
“Yeah. Mae's sixteen. I'm eighteen. And you're a piece of shit.”
“You're blaming me for this?”
Jasper lies down on the cot and stares up at the concrete ceiling. To have your worst fear come true provides bitter relief. “Do you remember that time when we were eleven, and you were mad at your mom because she caught you with cigarettes, and in retaliation you burned down your tree house with a lighter? I thought, wow, what a shitty thing to do. That was the best tree house I had ever seen. It even had curtains and electricity, and when one thing didn't go your way, you burned the whole thing down.”
“Are you high?”
“Then we went back inside and I was freaking out, and your mom saw and she was freaking out, but you just sat there way too calm and poured caramel syrup all over your ice cream and watched the treehouse burn? I remember I thought to myself, maybe this guy is bad news. Maybe there's something wrong with him. But you were my friend and friends are loyal so I told myself I was overreacting. Besides, I had helped, you know? You had me throw the lighters away.”
“I don't remember that.”
“And I realize now, you had me throw them away so my fingerprints would be all over them.”
“Telling people you're a good person is different than being a good person.” Jasper will repeat this sentiment during the four years he spends in jail, as a way to reassure himself that he is the latter. He will spend those years exercising and cleaning roads and making friends and leisurely graduating high school with the occasional class in the correctional facility learning center, and Ethan will be reduced to an abstract concept in the back of his mind. By the time Jasper is released, pushing twenty-four, he'll focus on finding a place he's allowed to live, and work like the type he did in prison, and he won't think of Ethan at all—until he reads about him in the news along with everybody else.
“Don't worry,” says Ethan. “It's a bullshit charge. It's just a way for the police to look like they're doing their jobs, since people online are freaking out.”
Jasper stares more closely at the ceiling, at tiny bubbles and cracks in the concrete.
When Ethan's father shows up, Mike opens the cell door again to inform the boys that Marc has posted bail. The last thing Ethan says to Jasper is “I would have helped you, man, if you hadn't turned on me at the last minute there.”
The cell lock echoes brightly. Ethan lies back down, closes his eyes, assumes his only option is to sleep, now and maybe forever.
Jasper squints and rises, unsure if he's looking at a mirage.
Shelby peers through the bars at him curiously. “Is that really you in there?”
He slides fingers lightly across metal shafts and she responds by closing petite fists around them. Hands would be enough, but she's talking too, in a wavering voice. “I can't believe this is happening. Why did you call me? Well?”
He shrugs. “You're just the first person I thought of.” So this will be the last time he sees Shelby: watching her fight back angry tears though bars.
“But I can't help you!”
Nobody can. “Maybe...I just wanted to see you?”
“Oh for fuck's sake, Jasper.” She presses palms against eyes. “Are you going to go to jail?”
“I don't know.”
“You know I can't date someone in jail. I'm not even allowed to date anybody who's not on the honor roll.”
“I get it.”
“But I'll miss you.”
This will not be the last time Jasper sees Shelby. Six thousand days from today they'll spend a night together in Seattle. He'll call her from the airport on the eve of his thirty-fifth birthday, explaining that his connecting flight has been cancelled, and she'll call off her blind date and pick him up instead, kicking off twenty-two hours in bed. They'll order in three full meals and watch an entire season of trash TV and go through half a box of condoms. Jasper will pull out all the stops—every sex move he knows—and Shelby will roll around on high-thread-count sheets and moan under the covers and say “I feel like I'm in high school again!” over and over. And that will be the last time he sees Shelby.