Jasper O'Toole met Ethan Harrington when the latter scored a goal in kindergarten soccer and the former, who was the goalie, punched the other boy's shoulder in retaliation. They soon became best friends.

Sporting coiffed bowl haircuts, arms draped around shoulders as they wobbled down the sidewalk, they were often mistaken for brothers. Their mothers, who were both members of the Presbyterian Church on Lincoln Avenue and fast friends, savored any excuse to sip wine and gossip while the boys played outside. Yet somehow when Jasper and Ethan joined forces, they always seemed to find trouble. One summer they broke two windows with brand new slingshots, though they still won't admit to the second. Their luxurious tree house mysteriously burned down. They killed a frog with a BB gun and placed it, stomach up, on their math teacher's front porch. After that, their mothers stopped spending time together.

Now Jasper sits at Ethan's dining room table, waiting for his friend to pay the delivery guy. With its archways and grand chandelier and floor length velvet curtains, the room rises like a cathedral around him: a stocky boy in a hoodie with his comically small cup of soda. Jasper shrinks. He pulls his sweatshirt over his head, as if hiding from God himself, and tugs on the strings til all he sees is blue cotton.

Ethan returns with the pie. Cardboard slides across mahogany. The scent of a pizza box opening usually melts away all worries in a room. Both boys breathe it in deeply, hoping for a miracle. It doesn't work.

“What are we gonna do?” It's still only Tuesday and already Jasper feels powerless. “This is one of those things they warn guys about, like how they say don't drink and drive, or don't do drugs, or don't put your dick in crazy.”

“All things we've done, now that you mention it.” Ethan bites into a slice. Tomato sauce dots his chin. He is either unworried or putting on an epic front, Jasper can't be sure. “You've gotta relax. Stressing doesn't help anything.”

“Why the fuck would I post that video?” Jasper thinks out loud. He wants Ethan to despair as well, to ask himself why he would pull Mae Brady into the swimming pool and take off her dress and ram his fingers into her.

But all Ethan says is “We can't go back and change the past.”

“You don't even feel a little guilty,” Jasper marvels. Though Saturday night was a blur, it had brought Ethan into sharp focus; he used violence to preserve his masculinity in the eyes of his peers, which made him a bully. Jasper was best friends with a bully—the worst kind of guy, the kind of guy you'd never expect to see at the top of the social totem pole. People like Ethan didn't need to prove anything. Mae was never a real threat; why had she bothered him so much? “Why...”

“I don't know. I don't remember. I don't remember a thing.”

But Ethan had not been black-out drunk. After Jayden and others tugged Mae out of the water, Ethan had pulled himself out without effort, leaving a trail of dark-as-blood water along concrete and stone, and there he stood in his swim trunks, not steady on his feet but not falling over either. He slurred his address to the crowd, a word stew of phrases plucked from various movies. “Guys. Guys! There's nothing to see here. Party's over. Everybody go home.”

“Are you sure you don't remember telling everybody the party was over?”

“No, I don't.” Snappy now, Ethan chugs soda. “Do you remember posting the evidence?”

Jasper does, vaguely, but he thought he had set the video to private. “I guess not. And it's not like I was the only person with my phone out.” Where were the other videos? And is Jasper in any of them, recording like a perv? The thought makes him ill. He pushes away his untouched pizza slice.

“Well there you go. Nobody can blame us for things we don't remember. And it's not your fault you forgot your phone on Sunday, it could have happened to anybody. Any of this could have happened to anybody.”

It takes too much effort to remain still in his seat; Jasper has no energy left to suspend disbelief. His insides crackle. Smoke rises and engulfs his brain. “What if you go to jail?”

Ethan chuckles. “That seems unlikely. Tons of things have to happen before you go to jail. You have to be accused of something. You have to have committed a crime. Then there's the whole trial thing. Other people have to be convinced that you did something wrong. I guess the thing I don't get is why you took the video to begin with, since you know I can't control myself while drinking. Remember that time at camp?”

Through his panic-induced brain fog, Jasper recalls the public thrusting around a bonfire under somebody's woolen blanket. “Of course. But fuck man, at least Sarah was awake.” Jasper has a sudden urge to know how Sarah Panascu is doing; she hadn't returned to camp the following summer.

“We were both drunk, though, just like this time. Ah, man. Remember how we had to sneak vodka past the counselors in water bottles?” Ethan reaches for a second slice. “That was your idea, actually. Don't act like you're some sort of saint.”

Jasper mumbles “I never said I was a saint” through the opening in his hoodie.

“It's not like we're thugs,” Ethan goes on. “They don't send guys like us to jail. Oh, one other thing, and I'm saying this from the bottom of my heart–”

Leaning back to balance on two chair legs, Jasper focuses on not falling over. Lifting his palms off the table for an instant, he remains simultaneously rooted to the ground and suspended in air.

“–I just want you to know I don't hold anything against you for recording it. No bad blood there. Are you gonna eat that slice?”

Jasper pries his hood back and away from his eyes. He lowers the chair onto all four legs and says that no, he does not think he can. 


chapter twenty-six