As Dr. Cann attempts to teach history, Shelby watches a second news van join the first.

It settles on the opposite side of the same bank parking lot in an obvious act of aggression, antennae staring down antennae in some Wild West-style standoff. The individuals inside are friendlier: the Channel 6 anchor offers a warm handshake to the Channel 11 anchor; the two camera operators chuckle deferentially in the way electricians might upon finding themselves assigned to repair the same wire. Producers remain glued to their phones, trying to line up interviews without luck: Ethan's parents, Mae's mother. The first interviews, then, are curious bank employees who creep outside to investigate the commotion only to find themselves accosted by eager production assistants who want to know if they have “just a second, it will only take one second,” and if so, they must care about the missing teen in their town. A crowd gathers organically but few adults admit to having watched the viral video, even vigorously denying it into wooly microphones.

“What do you think of the now infamous video of the missing teenager?”

“Horrible, despicable. What an awful thing to happen.”

“When did you first watch it?”

“Pardon me?”

“When did you first see the video?”

“I don't watch that filth!”

In that way, the scene in the parking lot reaches a comfortable equilibrium of Pearvillians milling about while the crew eats sandwiches, a balance that abruptly shifts as soon as the last bell of the day reverberates throughout the high school. Empty buses idle forlornly as throngs of students pour toward the cameras. The hierarchy of high school emerges; juniors and seniors line up to be interviewed while freshmen and sophomores gather in two tight semicircles to observe the action, pointing their phone cameras at the larger cameras to get shots of each other in front of the news crew.

Semicircle growing ever tighter, the anchors begin to resent this invasion of hundreds of kids wielding hundreds of glowing screens. “Please step back. I said step back,” says one, throwing a pained look toward her producer. “Are we moving locations soon?” It's not, however, in the best interest of the producers to move. The students provide an energy that's been lacking for hours; their refreshing honesty and unpolished interviews read especially well on television, unlike adults with their forced sense of decorum.

“Of course we all saw it. We were all there.”

“Mae is nice and all, but she's also sorta stuck up. I guess all pretty girls are.”

“Let's just say Ethan isn't the boyfriend type.”

“I heard he had sex at camp once in front of everybody.”

At first Shelby hangs back. She leans against her convertible and eyes steadily the hubbub across the street. But then Jasper approaches, alone and bereft of the overt posturing that usually defines him. She greets him with a “what the fuck do you want?”

“I'm really sorry about everything that happened.” His voice sounds different, too: deeper; muted; possibly more sincere. Hands stuffed into pockets, he stands close enough for Shelby to see his freckles but the sense of warmth that usually accompanies his closeness is gone. She remembers that he is in fact oddly proportioned, with a thick head and neck tapering off until thin legs encounter absurdly large sneakers. A gentle smattering of acne flushes across his lower face where a beard should be, as if mocking his hairless face.

“You should be sorry.”

“Don't be dramatic. I'm sure Mae's okay. She's a tough girl. Listen, I wanna help. Is there any way I can help?”

Shelby scrunches her lips into her nose and breathes in the scent of roses. “You've done enough.” The phrase sounds more harsh when her parents say it.

“Do you wanna get together and call around?”

He looks hopeful. She looks beyond him. “It kinda looks like everybody's been called.”

“Fine then. You're a stubborn one, Cho.” Perhaps it's meant to be an insult, emphasized by an angry kick of a stray pebble as Jasper walks away, but Shelby prefers to interpret it as a compliment. Emboldened, she crosses the street toward the cameras and the crowd. The air feels festive, almost like a street fair. She squeezes between chattering students until she reaches the front row, where she places herself in clear view of the largest camera, makes eye contact with the anchor three times, and then lets herself be volunteered by the raucous group. “You should talk to her,” someone says. “She's best friends with the missing girl!”


chapter twenty-one