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By Travis Thrasher, LB Norton
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2006 Travis Thrasher
All rights reserved.
SOMETHING DEEP and terrifying jerked him awake. Even before he opened his eyes, Jake knew he was confined, his head lodged against something unmovable. He couldn't feel his arm tangled underneath him. His dry tongue rolled against cracked lips as he tried to clear his ragged throat. The first thing he saw was the tan faux-leather back of the car seat. Then, looking down on the floor, he saw a handgun wrapped in a muddy towel.
He sat up in the big backseat, the scent of reefer undeniable. The smell alone identified the car as Bruce's tattered Chevy Monte Carlo, but there was no sign of his friend. The keys were still in the ignition.
Moving brought a wave of nausea and pain. His back was drenched in sweat. Rolling down the window, Jake breathed in and felt a throbbing in his left side. Like an air bubble, but far worse. It felt like the time he'd been beaten to a pulp, the time he lost consciousness just a month ago. But judging by the way he felt, and his total ignorance of where he was or what had happened to him in the last twelve or twenty-four or God knows how many hours, he realized this time could be worse.
He opened the car door and stumbled out, falling over and feeling the sting of blood rushing back into his legs. For a moment he lay there breathing, the morning sun making him perspire more.
The sky and the clouds above looked peaceful, and he wished it could be like this, staring at the heavens with no worries or fears. But something nagged at him. Something awful.
Finally sitting up, Jake looked around. He sat on a patch of gravel off a rocky unnamed road. A cornfield fenced him in on one side, a forest on the other.
He stood up and looked around. Then he stared down at his shirt, his jeans, his shoes.
All were covered in blood. The crusted red on his white T-shirt—the dark smudges on his jeans—the specks on his shoes, even his shoelaces—Jake absorbed all this with a slow-burning hysteria.
He'd come out here with his friends for the last few days of spring break. To camp out and drink and have fun. The last thing he remembered was sitting around the fire last night. Or maybe the night before.
Jake didn't know.
A feeling of guilt and dread began to fill his mind. The scary thing was that he had no idea why.CHAPTER 2
I CAN'T REMEMBER a New Year's Eve that ever lived up to the hype. Even during my wild days of college, I found typical weeknights more exciting than the inevitable bust of December 31. But on the first day of 2005, after toasting in the New Year amidst friends and colleagues, I came home to my silent condo in Colorado Springs at 2:45 a.m. and got the surprise call of the decade.
"Hey, Jake—long time, huh? It's Alec. You're probably out celebrating. I would be too. In fact, that's why I'm calling. I'm getting ready to go out, permanently. To just get away. And I thought I should finally call."
Something crashed in the background, as if he had knocked over a table or a lamp.
"Things are sorta hairy, and I just wanted to—well, I guess I've always needed to tell you this. I bailed after all the craziness at college. But I promised Carnie and wanted to finally call...."
The rambling message stopped for a second.
"Carnie wanted you to know he was sorry it all happened. It was his fault, and he felt guilty. He didn't—he couldn't—tell you, even in those last few days. I think he might have tried. Maybe none of us wanted to listen.
"I never thought—no, I never believed it could happen. Not that way. I heard about it, you know. I should've come back. I know. I should've been there. But I couldn't."
Alec let go with a long curse.
"I just never thought he'd do it, you know? But there's lots I never knew.... I just wanted you to know in case ... in case whatever. In case you don't hear from me again."
There was a click. No good-bye.
Not a call, a card, or a sign of life. There had been silence for eleven years. Even after letting it all go, I'd thought about Alec. A lot. I often wondered how he was doing, how he was coping, how he was living.
These could be the delirious words of a drunk, as far as I knew. I didn't take them seriously. I put the call out of my mind and went on with my regular business, assuming I wouldn't hear from Alec or any of the guys again.
Just six months later I would find out how very wrong I was.CHAPTER 3
THE PARTY THAT officially started at 7:17 p.m. on New Year's Eve at Four-leaf Clover sports bar would not be over for another six months. The spark of violence ignited that night would take eleven long years to burn out.
Jake wasn't thinking about where he would be in a decade, much less in ten hours. He lived in the moment, and the moment meant potato skins and beer, a little pool with his big roommate, Carnie, then eventually heading over to Franklin's house in the suburbs. There would be over a hundred students at the party, which Franklin had been planning since Halloween. It would be a great way to celebrate the New Year and the last semester of his college experience.
The last semester. It had a nice ring to it. One more semester, then freedom.
Jake leaned back in the plastic chair and drained another cup of Lite. He had programmed an hour's worth of music on the jukebox, and the howling vocals of Kurt Cobain filled the bar.
"All right," Jake said to his roommate of three years. "What gives?"
Jake nodded at the backpack on the chair beside Carnie. "Late night studying?"
Carnie didn't smile but looked around the room. There were a few people at the bar. "Take a look," he said.
Jake took the backpack and placed it in his lap. He unzipped the top and saw the black metal butt of a handgun wedged between a couple of shirts. "No way. That real?"
Carnie nodded and adjusted his Tennessee Vols cap.
"You planning a hit?" Jake joked.
"I told you I was going to buy one."
"That looks like a cannon."
Carnie took the backpack from Jake and zipped it back up. "It's a .45 automatic." He described the make and model and weight and other information Jake didn't pay attention to.
"So what's all that mean?" Jake finally asked, amused at the long explanation by his usually tight-lipped friend.
"It'll do its job."
"You know—you might be able to fire this off in your backyard down there in the Tennessee hills, but around here people might take exception."
"I've got a membership at the range."
"How much that gun cost?"
Carnie glanced at him. "Enough."
"I'm sure it wasn't cheap."
"Yeah, but it was my money. Your parents approve of your spending habits?" Carnie looked at the empty cup in Jake's hand.
"Got me there," Jake said with a smile. "Next round's on me." He went to the bar and came back with another pitcher.
"How much is cover tonight?" Carnie asked.
Jake laughed. "Come on. Franklin's covering us."
"He'd better. The guy's loaded. He drives a BMW."
"He's a tightwad."
"Whose parents have gone to the Caribbean for the holidays."
"Who goes to the Caribbean for the holidays?" Carnie asked with an amused look.
"I guess Chicago snow and cold get pretty old. If you can, why not?"
"Why didn't he go with them?"
"You know Franklin. Mr. Independent."
Snow fell outside, continuing the trend of the last week. None of them liked to drive when they were going out, but all of them got behind the wheel without thought. It was part of the game, part of the life. Carnie was driving tonight, having lost the best of three rock-paper-scissors.
"Think we can spend the night at Franklin's?"
Jake shrugged. "You can have his parents' king."
"Can you imagine Alec sleeping in their bed?"
They both laughed.
"He wouldn't care whose bed it was," Jake said.
"He had a problem."
"Yeah, it was a big problem. He just didn't care."
Carnie laughed. "A man has big problems when he can't get up to go to the bathroom."
"Like I said, Alec just didn't care."
"Where do you think he is?"
"Who knows? Maybe he's in a prison somewhere."
"Think we'll ever see him again?"
"Probably not," Jake said, then added, "I kinda hope we don't."
"I want to finish out college alive."
As Pearl Jam began to blare over the bar speakers, Carnie lit up a cigarette, then paused, anticipating Jake's outstretched hand.
"Why don't you get your own?"
"I don't smoke," Jake said.
"Only when you drink."
"That's every day."
"Are you saying I have a problem?" Jake asked.
"My name is Jake, and I'm an alcoholic," Carnie answered.
"My name is Carnie, and tonight I'm going to pass out in Franklin's living room."
"My name is Franklin, and I dry-clean my shirts."
"My name is Bruce, and I smoke weed for medicinal purposes."
They both laughed and lit up smokes and drank their beers.
The night would be long, and it had just started.
* * *
A crowd had already gathered at Franklin's mansion in Burr Ridge when they arrived around ten. The swooping arch of the driveway was littered with cars.
Bruce Atkinson, another of their roommates, greeted Jake and Carnie near the door. He was already pretty lit and was stepping outside for a smoke.
If Carnie was the redneck in their group, Bruce was the surfer dude. Born in Illinois but raised in California, he was the one most often found wandering off to smoke pot and zone out. He wasn't the smartest of the lot, but he had a big heart. Sort of like Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites, in both looks and character.
David Kirby completed the foursome that shared an armpit of an apartment ten minutes away from Providence College. Compared to Franklin's home, their place was a bomb shelter. Initially they were going to have the New Year's party at their apartment, but Franklin got permission from his traveling parents to bring in kegs and liquor and live it up for the night.
Jake led the others inside, feeling like a rock star coming onstage. He was the life of the party. It used to be the tag team of Jake and Alec. People watched to see what the two of them would do next. So maybe it was for the same reason that people liked watching a train wreck, but they watched. At a small college like Providence, most people sat on the sidelines. Some out of fear. Some, supposedly, out of faith, whatever that meant. But Jake and Alec weren't afraid to be on the field, front and center. They loved to laugh, loved to have fun, and loved to drink.
Now that Alec was gone, Jake had to stand alone. And that was okay with him.
Franklin, Mr. Preppy himself, was wandering around in his turtleneck sweater with a glass of Coke. Carnie found Kirby and settled into conversation. Bruce went over to the stereo and selected "Breaking the Girl" off Red Hot Chili Peppers' latest album. An assortment of students from nervous freshmen to aloof seniors mingled in the open, high-roofed living room and kitchen.
In the blur of people and music and motion, even before he could get a beer in his hand, Jake saw her across the room, talking to some Jim-Bob sports dude he didn't know.
Alec used to say she was Jake's evil desire. Carnie called her "the princess," not sarcastically but with genuine regard. Bruce called her untouchable.
Her name was Alyssa Roberts.
What's she doing here?
Jake had stumbled on to Alyssa two years before, when she was a freshman working in the Dean of Students office. He'd been enamored from the first, for reasons that were long but not complicated. She was beautiful and innocent and wanted nothing to do with him.
Well, not exactly nothing. There was a connection, one that both fascinated and frustrated him at the same time. Alec once said she was screwing with his head, and Jake said he didn't care and she could continue messing around with it all she wanted.
Jake got a plastic cup of beer and went over to talk with her over the wailing funk of the Chili Peppers.
"I knew you'd be here," Alyssa said with a smile.
Jake looked at the cup in her hand.
"Sprite," she said, answering the question that probably worked itself over his face.
"O'doul's," he said, making a joke that was lost on her.
The guy at her side had momentarily disappeared.
"Have a good Christmas?" she asked him.
"It was wonderful. My entire family came in for the holidays."
"Get any nice gifts?"
"I'll be going to Europe this summer."
Jake raised his eyebrows. "I'm talking about going to Europe with some of the guys. Maybe we'll follow you."
"I'll probably be hanging out in different places from you."
He smiled. "You know, one of these days, you're going to realize that you have me all wrong."
"At the core, I'm a gentleman. I don't know why you can't see that."
"I see more than you think," Alyssa said, her dark flowing hair and deep brown eyes entrancing him in that single moment just like a thousand times before.
Then Jim-Bob came alongside and interrupted them, and for a moment Jake wanted to take the guy's perfectly white teeth and make them eat his fist.
Jake nodded and went on to enjoy the party and do what he did best: mingle and drink. It took his mind off Alyssa and off the fact that he would never be a smiley-teeth sports dude.
* * *
Around eleven-thirty a dozen seniors arrived, taking Jake and his buddies by surprise. The newcomers were part of the illustrious jock crowd, a pack of basketball and baseball players and their dippy girlfriends. Jake had told Franklin not to invite them, but for parties like this, you didn't send out invitations. The buzz got around and people came, even people you hated.
The dominos started falling when Jake saw the hulking six-foot-four figure of Brian Erwin with his close-cropped military haircut. They had a history.
"I see you're in typical form tonight," Brian said with a condescending laugh.
Jake thought of a few choice adjectives to describe what he thought of Brian, but decided not to voice them.
Brian had Laila Henson at his side, which only made Jake realize how pathetic the college sports god was. He knew he hated the guy and that it was partly out of jealousy. If you could admit why you hated a guy, that made it okay. But Laila—she was "boil the rabbit" material, and everyone except Brian knew it. She was good-looking in a cheap, scary way, but that was it.
Laila and Jake had a history too.
Around midnight, as the television and radio and the crowd all did the countdown, Jake frantically searched for Alyssa, first inside and then out in the driveway. But she was nowhere to be found, so all he could do was toast himself and finish his beer as the snow continued to fall and the sweat on the back of his neck dried to a chill.
* * *
An hour later, in a haze of blurred emotion, Jake seized onto Brian's throat after the big guy shoved him into a wall. The fight, over something stupid—and wasn't it always over something stupid—ended up with Brian clocking him in the forehead before Bruce and Franklin intervened.
Jake barely felt the blow, even though he stumbled and fell to the ground. He continued to rail curses and insults at Brian. Jake didn't even know what he was saying, but Brian knew and would remember. And in the middle of the whole scene hovered Laila, the blonde-haired temptress who had caused the confrontation.
* * *
When Jake woke up the next morning, he remembered none of this. He looked in the mirror and saw his nice shiner and had to ask where it had come from.
His last memory was of standing in the snow longing for Alyssa and wishing he could give her a New Year's greeting.CHAPTER 4
THE FIRST THING I NOTICED about the chalet was a large family photo that could be spotted a mile away if the front door was open. It featured a picture-perfect family: aristocratic-looking father, pampered wife adorned in jewelry, perfect blonde daughter.
I walked into the main room and turned my head to take in the immense ceiling that curved down toward the deck. The open family room centered around a stone fireplace half the size of my apartment bedroom. The big man I followed waved me toward the L-shaped sofa as he asked if I wanted anything to drink. I told him a soda would be fine.
From where I sat I could see the tops of surrounding mountains waiting for winter to cap them and keep them busy. The cabin felt homey but not quite lived in, a bit too immaculate. It almost seemed as though it should give off a new-car scent.
"Nice getaway, huh?" the host said as he handed me a glass with ice and cola.
It had taken me a couple hours to get to this cabin in Breckenridge from my apartment in Colorado Springs. I had declined to answer the first few voice mails from a woman working for Mr. Jelen, then had spoken to her in person but had still decided not to meet with him. Jelen had personally gotten ahold of me at home a week ago. He was used to getting his way.
Excerpted from Admission by Travis Thrasher, LB Norton. Copyright © 2006 Travis Thrasher. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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