Ethan tells himself not to be unnerved by the cameras.
His wingback chair, less comfortable than it looks, faces an identical vacant one. The area in the Channel 6 studio set aside for interviews is cramped: two chairs upon a hideous rug, gathered together on an afterthought of a raised platform. The star of the studio is the polished news desk a few feet away, decked out in glass and chrome. Cameras roll into position. Their size is distracting: mammoth black boxes on wheels, with shapes he can't quite make out behind bright lights.
A friendly crew member emerges from the darkness to attach a wireless microphone to the inside of Ethan's white button down. “Can you do a quick test for us, mate? Just say one, two, three.”
“One. Two. Three.” Ethan wonders if the crew member is from Australia or New Zealand, not that it matters since they're basically the same. “Where are you–?”
“Cool.” His parents are here, somewhere out there beyond the cameras. Marc no doubt checking email on his phone. Angela, having engineered this interview, will be marching about, trying to determine when the segment will air, pacing back and forth in her sensible capris.
A strong-jawed man shakes his hand brightly. “It's great to meet you in person, Ethan. I'm Jack Whip.”
The man looks like Marc. Ethan likes him immediately. “Pleasure.” A mature greeting. So far so good.
Jack settles into the second chair and strikes up a conversation while waiting for his mic to be attached. “Ever been on live television before, Ethan?”
“Not like this.” Does football count? Football might count.
“It's nothing to stress over. I sent your mom a list of topics. Did you practice?”
“With my mom? God yes.” A bit of a sore subject. Every time he sat down to play video games, his mother turned them off and made him memorize answers. It sucked.
“Great!” An intern hands Jack a script and dusts Ethan's face lightly with translucent powder. “You're getting quite the education, aren't you?”
“I really am,” Ethan replies, before he realizes the anchor was talking to his intern.
The intern practically curtsies as she gushes “I'm enjoying it very much!” before vanishing past the lights.
Jack smiles encouragingly. “Here we go.” He gazes into a camera, coughs quickly. A producer starts a subtle countdown. Jack's face softens into solemn warmth. “Thank you, Lori.” (Lori slides out from behind the news desk; she wears ratted jeans and no shoes below her red blazer.) “We have a very special guest with us this evening. You probably recognize him as the star of an infamous video that found its way onto the internet, but what you may not know about Ethan Harrington is that he is a well-respected honor student and football player at Pearville High. Ethan, what do you think about all this attention?”
“It's upsetting that a private, consensual encounter has been blown up to this magnitude.” The rehearsed line is delivered flawlessly. Angela wrote it. There's a second part to it; he's supposed to add something else. “I deeply regret that night.”
“So you think you made poor decisions?”
“I definitely did. I don't want people to think I'm a bad person. I'm sorry my actions caused so many people to, like...” His eyes drift toward the lights. He blinks into black specks. “I'm sorry my actions upset so many people.”
“You sound sorry.”
“Of course I'm sorry.” Ethan's voice grows stronger, steadier. This anchor, the camera, those lights, they've got nothing on him. “That guy in the video is not who I am at all. I want people to know that I'm a good person and a good student.” Ah, there it is. He relaxes in his chair.
With his well-formed vowels and crisp consonants, Jack inspires Ethan to adopt his precision. They discuss his recent engagement – “Would you like to see a picture of the ring I got her?” “Sure.” – and his thoughts on the Pearville Bears this season, and his plans to lay off alcohol until he turns twenty-one.
“Do you regret drinking?”
“Of course. That said, all kids drink, no matter what the law says, but I definitely went too far.”
“Some people might say that means you think you're above the law.”
Ethan's eyes narrow into Jack's blandly amiable ones. “I don't think I'm above the law.” His entire life has taught him that what you say doesn't matter as much as the confidence with which you say it, but still he glances nervously into the darkness, wondering where his parents are.
The moment passes. They talk about the ubiquity of “mobile phones” and about Ethan's plans for the future.
“What are your thoughts on Mae Brady?”
Ethan's heart races. This is not in the script. “Thoughts? What do you mean?”
“Well, she has some feelings about the incident. In fact, we have a video of her expressing them.”
Ethan's smile freezes in place. “A video?”
“It includes some very strong allegations as well. Shall we watch?”
Ethan examines Jack. He's so familiar, not a bit intimidating. Ethan suspects he has been misled and glances around nervously, hoping someone, anywhere, will jump in and save him. “I've got nothing to hide.” He shoves his hair back, is reminded of his recent cut.
Before he can speculate about what she has to say, Mae appears on a small screen next to the news desk. She sits on her bed, looking directly into the camera. Ethan watches enough television to know the video is being broadcast to screens across the Chicago area. It's polished and edited, seamlessly integrating audio with a first-person confessional. The work of a professional. Hi everybody. It's Mae, and I'm making this video because I need to get a few things off my chest.
Shelby watches the video in bed, suddenly not tired and reaching for her phone.
Angela watches the video while sipping coffee backstage and waving her hands wildly to “cut!”
Jasper watches the video in the family room with his father, whose face loses its color.
Courtney watches the video at work, hushing bar patrons and turning up the volume.
Mae watches the video at Lucy's apartment, a very tame cat purring in her lap.