Debut author and Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson makes your heart stop and time stand still in his extraordinary and life-affirming novel that's perfect for fans of If I Stay and We All Looked Up.
In the hours after a bridge collapse rocks their city, a group of Boston teenagers meet in the waiting room of Massachusetts General Hospital:
Siblings Jason and Alexa have already experienced enough grief for a lifetime, so in this moment of confusion and despair, Alexa hopes that she can look to her brother for support. But a secret Jason has been keeping from his sister threatens to tear the siblings apart...right when they need each other most.
Scott is waiting to hear about his girlfriend, Aimee, who was on a bus with her theater group when the bridge went down. Their relationship has been rocky, but Scott knows that if he can just see Aimee one more time, if she can just make it through this ordeal and he can tell her he loves her, everything will be all right.
And then there's Skyler, whose sister Kate—the sister who is more like a mother, the sister who is basically Skyler's everything—was crossing the bridge when it collapsed. As the minutes tick by without a word from the hospital staff, Skyler is left to wonder how she can possibly move through life without the one person who makes her feel strong when she's at her weakest.
In his riveting, achingly beautiful debut, Richard Lawson guides readers through an emotional and life-changing night as these teens are forced to face the reality of their pasts...and the prospect of very different futures.
|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Richard Lawson is the film critic for Vanity Fair and a co-host of V.F.'s Little Gold Men podcast. He has written for The Guardian, The Atlantic Wire, Gawker, and Out magazine, and has contributed to the Dinner Party Download radio show. Though currently living in New York City, Richard was born and raised in Boston.
Read an Excerpt
IT WAS CLOUDY when the bridge gave way, about a hundred cars crossing the Mystic River on the Tobin. People who saw it said it just suddenly happened, but how sudden could something like this be? It must have been years of bad maintenance, years of some important part being worn away by rust or stress or time. Really, the only sudden part was the very end.
From far away, it seemed to go softly, one section dropping down, and then another, splashing into the river, dust falling like snow after it. Up close, of course, it was a different matter: a terrible, quick quaking and then the horror of plummeting. It was hard to say who was less lucky, the ones who fell into the water or the ones who fell onto Charlestown, debris tumbling on top of them. Was it better to be swiftly crushed or to slowly drown in your car?
It’s easy to forget, seeing a stream of cars on the highway or stuck in city traffic, that each of them represents a person, or several people, all trying to get somewhere of their own, home or to a meeting or to a funeral or starting out a trip. When the police and rescue teams arrived on the scene of the Tobin Bridge collapse, one of their first jobs was to determine how many people were involved. They needed to know who to look for, how many cars had gone in the water, how many had crashed down onto land and been buried by metal and cement. They needed some idea of the lives involved, of all the people they were searching for.
Kate Vong was driving back from a morning shift at the restaurant where she worked, tired and stressed about school, racing to make an afternoon class, worried about finding parking, thinking she’d love to quit her job and be a full-time student like so many of her friends. She was on the phone with her younger sister, who was complaining about wanting to use the car, a fight they had often. Kate honked at a car that cut her off, and was almost across the bridge when it juddered and broke. The last thing she saw before her car tipped toward the ground and everything went black was a few spatters of rain on her windshield, and she wondered if she had an umbrella.
Theo and Linda Elsing were on the other side, heading to their daughter’s school for a meeting. Theo was on the phone with his office, annoyed that he’d been pulled away in the middle of the day. His wife was reading e-mails on her phone, gently putting her hand on Theo’s arm and telling him to slow down, that they weren’t going to be late. They’d had to take a detour because of traffic, and weren’t even supposed to be on the bridge. Theo slowed the car and told work he had to hang up. He gave his wife an apologetic look, and then the road cracked underneath them, the car sliding to the edge and toppling over the side, Linda saying, “Theo . . .” and grabbing the dash as the car fell.
Aimee Peck was a few cars ahead, out over the water, heading north to Salem on a sort of field trip with her friends, their favorite song blaring. They were laughing about something that had happened at play rehearsal the day before, Aimee’s friend Taissa driving fast, saying she couldn’t believe the show was going up in only a few weeks. Aimee was excited about the trip, and about the play, but she was distracted. She was staring out the passenger seat window when she felt the car shake, heard Taissa screaming as she twisted the wheel and the car went flipping down toward the river. Aimee closed her eyes.
There were many others, nearly two hundred in all. A mother taking her children to her parents’ place in Portland. A lawyer headed home after a frustrating morning in court. A newlywed couple on their way to the airport, suitcases in the trunk packed with warm-weather clothes. There was a woman fighting on the phone with her daughter in Arizona, a man crying about the dog he’d just put to sleep. There were three babies, there was a taxi driver taking a long fare to Revere, there were truck drivers heading north, others heading into the city. There were more.
That’s what they—the paramedics, the police—found when they went looking in the rubble of the bridge, once they’d determined it was safe enough to do so. A whole panorama of lives—people trapped or injured or killed together. They dug people out as carefully and as quickly as they could. They set up triage onsite; they put the direst cases in a phalanx of ambulances, sending them off to the closest hospitals. They sent divers into the water, afraid of what they would find. The attention of the city, the great eye of Boston, swooped down and watched with grief and concern, helicopters whirring overhead, news crews trying to get the best angles.
Slowly, all across Greater Boston, the phone calls began. Loved ones getting word, rushing out of offices and homes and classrooms to make their way to the hospitals, reeling with panic and fear, tearing through a city once again roiling with tragedy. They descended on emergency rooms, pleading for answers, but instead were forced to wait for word of parents and sisters and girlfriends. To find out who, exactly, had just been lost.
THOUGH HIS PARENTS could be dead, lost to him forever, there was only one voice Jason wanted to hear just then. As he stood outside the hospital, the day darkening and surreal around him, Jason reached for the familiar, comforting talisman of his phone and opened a voice mail.
“Hey, you. I’m driving to Laurie’s, wanted to say hi. I know you hate voice mail, so I don’t know why I’m leaving you one. But—” There was a little pause, the rumble of the car going over a pothole, a faint bit of melody from whatever song had been turned down to make the call. “This is corny, but I think about you all the time. And right now is part of ‘all the time,’ right? So, I’m thinking about you now. Does that make sense? I hope it does. Anyway, as Carly Rae says, I really like you. O.K.? O.K. This is embarrassing. Goodbye! I like you! Goodbye.”
Jason took the phone from his ear, tempted to restart the message. But then an ambulance siren blared next to him, jolting him out of the warm world of the voice mail, and Jason remembered where he was: standing outside Boston General, five p.m. on a Monday in November, waiting to find out if his parents were still alive. Jason could, he realized for maybe the hundredth time in the last hour, be an eighteen-year-old orphan. His parents were missing, or unaccounted for, like so many other people. Surveillance cameras had captured their car inching up the bridge in midday traffic, and then it disappeared with everything else when first one section, and then another one, gave way. Jason had seen the footage, somehow already leaked online, small and black-and-white and fake-looking. His sister, Alexa, had found out first, of course—and now here they were, along with all the other clueless, crying loved ones, waiting to find out just how much the world had suddenly changed.
But Jason couldn’t even really begin to think about his parents, about where they might be and in what condition, if they were just bodies in bags somewhere, if they were hurt and bleeding, if they’d asked for their children. That was all too much to comprehend, to even consider processing, so Jason found himself reaching back, not dwelling on tangled metal and crumbled concrete but instead on the ski slope of a boy’s nose, his gravity-defying hair, the way his mouth drooped down just a little on one side, into a pout or a sneer depending on his mood. He missed him all the time, of course, but now that ache felt profound—physical, elemental, molecular. This was what it was to love someone, Jason figured, but there was nothing to be done about that now.
Except, maybe, to listen to the voice mail one more time. He tapped the arrow button and pressed the phone in close, losing himself again in the melodic, confident voice, twinged with that bit of giddy nerves, saying to Jason what Jason wanted so much to say back. The voice mail ended and Jason began to feel himself emptying out again. The high of the message was quick, lasting only a few seconds before the realities of the day came crashing, thudding, screaming back in.
Jason looked up and saw the beginnings of chaos. People on phones—or clutching spouses or children—were hurrying toward the emergency room doors. Nurses and doctors were waiting expectantly for the first wave of ambulances from the site.
I’m too young for this, Jason thought. Most of the time, Jason tried to assert a worldliness, a cultivated jadedness. It was a pose he struck at school. (Or rather, schools—he was on his third school in as many years.) It was probably how Alexa would say he treated her. Jason suddenly remembered a brief conversation he’d had—tense and a little sad—with his mother, a year or two before.
They were in the library, what Jason’s mother called the sitting room or parlor at the front of the house. Jason was sitting there in some fog, fiddling on his phone, when his mother came in, saying goodbye on her way to some event or other. She looked at him with that half-concerned, half-bored look of hers for a moment and then turned to leave, before remembering that, oh right, this was her teenage son, being left home alone, and she should probably make sure he wouldn’t burn the house down.
“You’ll be all right?” she asked, fastening a tasteful gold earring to an earlobe.
Jason looked up at her, gave her one of his withering looks. “Will you?”
His mother seemed a little stung, and was certainly annoyed. “You know,” she said, her eyes cold and piercing, or as much as they could be from behind their usual glassiness, “you’re awfully haughty these days, aren’t you?” She said it in such a way—that word, “haughty”—that Jason thought there was something behind it; he had a suspicion about what kind of boys, what kind of young men, Jason’s mother found to be “haughty.”
Jason’s mother was right, though. About the haughtiness, about what that haughtiness might mean. Trying so hard—for reasons he couldn’t quite articulate, even to himself—to cover up a fundamental part of himself led to Jason projecting this air of betterness, of knowing, talking to his parents like they weren’t his parents at all. He liked how it felt: detached and mature and, despite all his messes, self-possessed.
Still, it hurt when his mother made her subtle implications about what she might know, in such a pointed and disapproving tone. Jason remembered feeling stung there in the library, listening to his mother’s heels clack out of the house. All he wanted to do was chase after her and tell her the truth and have her hug him. But he didn’t, and the haughtiness, his remove, eventually returned, as it always did.
But now all this . . . he was definitely not old enough for this. He felt small and panicky, a swell of fear rising up in his chest. He’d need another. Just one more, before he collected himself and went to deal with the present. He found a favorite message, a short one. The sound of a party, one voice breaking through, drunk and happy, yelling, “You should’ve come with me toniiiiight! I love you! I mean, shit, I’m drunk! I’m drunk! I gotta go!” Then a laugh, a blare of music, and the click of the phone hanging up. I love you. It was one of the few times someone who wasn’t his parents had ever said that to him.
His parents. The hospital. Here. He had to be here. It was beginning to rain, the sidewalk pavement getting darker in splotches. Jason knew he should go inside, find Alexa, stay with her as long as it took to make sure everything was going to be O.K. It had to be O.K., didn’t it? How much bad stuff could happen to one kid in a year?
His voice mail ritual done, Jason put his phone back in his pocket and ran his hands through his hair. The rain was picking up quickly, and it was cold. The clocks had been set back an hour the day before, and this was the first really dark afternoon of the year. So it was dark, and cold, and raining, and yet Jason still felt rooted in place, unable to turn around and go find his sister. Because he didn’t know what was left of his life inside. Though, to be fair, he didn’t know what was left of his life out there, either, standing on a street corner, listening to year-old voice mails.
“The whole summer?”
Jason was sitting at the dining room table with his parents and Alexa. May of the year before. Jason’s face felt hot, indignant, like he’d just been slapped while being told he was going to jail.
“We think it would be good. For all of us,” Jason’s father, Theo, said, giving a hopeful little glance toward Jason’s mother, Linda. “To get away, as a family. And you kids love it out there.”
“For a weekend, I guess, when we were kids,” Jason whined. He could hear the brattiness in his voice, could feel childish tears of frustration stinging in his eyes. Normally he would never show that much emotion in front of his parents, but right then he didn’t care. They had just told Jason and his sister that they’d be spending the entire summer, the whole three-month expanse of it, at the family’s vacation home in Wellfleet, on Cape Cod. Just the four of them. Together. Alone. All summer.
“You’re still kids,” Linda said, a little chiding, a little wistful.
“Alexa?” Jason turned to his sister. “Are you going to say anything about this?”
Before she even did it, Jason knew that Alexa was going to take their side. Even though Jason was sure Alexa didn’t really want to go, that there was no way she was thrilled about being shipped off to the Cape with her fucked-up family until Labor Day, Jason knew his sister would say and do the right thing, the good thing, the responsible thing. Sure enough, she did.
“I don’t mind,” Alexa said. “I mean, I’ll get a job. I dunno. It could be fun.”
Fun. There were many things a summer in the beach house with Theo, Linda, Jason, and Alexa and no escape could be, but fun was not one of them. Jason rolled his eyes at his sister and turned back to his parents. They barely had any control over him then, and frankly barely monitored what he did. But this, here, this seemed serious. Like maybe Jason couldn’t wriggle out of it. They were going, and there was no way they were going to leave him at home. Maybe he could run away. But where would he go?
Jason lived in the Back Bay, a beautiful old section of Boston full of well-appointed town houses, home to many of the city’s wealthy and well-connected. It being Boston, the wealth there wasn’t ostentatious, but it was certainly there. Jason and Alexa grew up in the thick of it, their mother the descendant of a long family line that could trace its roots back to the Mayflower. Not needing to work for money, Linda spent most of her time organizing and hosting benefits, for the Parks Department, for the Gardner Museum, for the Huntington Theatre. Everyone knew Linda Elsing. Jason’s father, Theo, worked as a consultant or something, making lots of money by making even more money for other people.
So, in the material ways, Jason’s life was comfortable. He’d gone to fancy private schools. Spent winter weekends at friends’ parents’ ski houses in Waterville Valley, or Killington, or Sunday River. Summer weekends in Wellfleet. They drove German and Swedish cars, had a show-quality yellow lab named Charles, who died when Jason was fifteen. Anyone peering in on the Elsings’ lives from the outside would see something ideal—well-to-do New England WASPs at their finest, hale and smart and modest. (Jason’s mother would tut-tut disapprovingly whenever she saw some gaudy new house being built out on the Cape, preferring the more reasonable Shingle-style home she’d inherited from her parents when they died.)
But, as is true of many homes, the Elsings’ houses contained little darknesses, secrets and struggles that, as Jason and Alexa became teenagers, began to strain the seams of the family’s bond. Linda was never without a glass of champagne at her many events, which turned into glasses of wine at home, descending her into a melancholy blurriness that Jason tried his best to avoid. As this happened, Theo grew distant, consumed by his squash games and business trips and, for a time, long walks along the Charles with Charles. Alexa, a year younger than Jason, was a tense and worried teenager. Their relationship, once close, had begun to fray, as Alexa worked herself into knots and Jason tested out his new role as the black sheep of the family.
There was also the gay thing, in the beginning a quiet, scary suspicion that Jason could mostly ignore when he first noticed it, a little bud in him not yet in bloom, but that had, over the last year or so, grown into something too big to turn away from or deny. Jason’s parents weren’t conservative people, not politically anyway, but theirs was not the kind of household where you talked about feelings and crushes and stuff like that, let alone sex.
Jason’s friends, if you could call them friends, were all jockish, preppy boys from big houses out in the wealthy suburbs. They weren’t the kind of guys who would tolerate a gay friend. Or rather, they would tolerate it, but nothing further. Jason had imagined one of these conversations playing out many times, always ending the same way. He and Carter Chapman, maybe, stoned or drunk in Killington, sitting on the carpeting in the downstairs rec room, snow falling outside. (There was always something a little sexy about this image, Jason had to admit to himself.) Jason, feeling warm and bold, would say, “You know, man . . . I’m gay,” and Carter would bristle. Jason could see Carter thinking nervously for a second and then nodding his head, like you’re supposed to do. Saying, “That’s cool, that’s cool,” like you’re supposed to. But then the night would end abruptly, and the rest of the weekend would be weird. And when they got back to Boston—Carter’s parents dropping Jason off downtown before heading back to Concord—the city would feel lonely.
Maybe it would be better, Jason often wondered, to be alone. But then he’d get frightened at the thought of having no one, even people he didn’t like all that much, and decide to bottle himself up, to not tell Carter or anyone, until he graduated and could leave.
Graduation would be hard-won. Jason was kicked out of his first school, a boarding school in New Hampshire he’d begged his parents to send him to when he was in eighth grade, for stealing a case of champagne from the headmaster’s office—it was left over from some fund-raiser, the headmaster explained—and distributing bottles to the kids in his dorm. The truth was, he’d been looking for a way to get booted, not wanting to tell his parents that he’d made a mistake, that he hated this remote school and its stuffy traditions and wanted to come home. He’d also developed a furtive, dangerous crush on his roommate, Jamie, a kid from some insanely rich family in Colombia, who had shaggy brown hair, a beautiful accent, and a habit of telling Jason long, rambling stories about his sexual exploits back home. Jason had spent the better part of that year tormented in this frigid prison, and thus the case of Moët, just waiting to be nicked, had been a perfect out.
Then there was a school in town, or in a close suburb of the city, a progressive kind of place where students called teachers by their first names and the choir sang nondenominational, or omnidenominational, songs during “the holiday season.” It wasn’t such a bad place, generous and laid-back as it was. But that was the year when, at fifteen, almost sixteen, Jason got into partying, first trying weed with a junior named Chance Righton in the wood-smelling basement in Chance’s dad’s condo in Stowe. He’d moved on quickly to drinking. It was many nights of booze from parents’ liquor cabinets, maybe some pills brought back from New York City, where Chance’s brother, Reardon, was a freshman at NYU. (Yes, Reardon Righton. They called him Rearin’ Right In, which Jason thought sounded kinda gay but was apparently a nickname given to Reardon after an encounter with an especially adventurous girl from Choate on Nantucket two summers previous.)
Jason spent the winter of his sophomore year bumming around Chance’s dad’s ski condo, or up till dawn at the loft apartment on Commercial Street where a girl named Ainsley Briggs lived, essentially alone, as her parents spent most of their time at their country house. If Jason’s parents noticed any change in their son, his odd hours and frequent overnights at friends’ houses, they didn’t say anything. Linda was often busy helping to plan First Night in the lead-up to New Year’s, and then Theo went on scuba diving trips to Martinique with clients all throughout January and February. So winter was not a very scrutinized time for the Elsing children. By the time anyone but Jason and his teachers noticed his grades slipping, it was too late. He was not “asked back” for his junior year at the progressive school, leaving his parents frustrated, but not so much that they sat him down and talked to him, really asked him what was wrong.
“You’ve got to fix this, Jason,” his mother said, frowning at him in the kitchen a week after his glorified expulsion.
“Fix what?” Jason asked, head pounding, not fully aware if it was day or night. The Elsings’ kitchen was in the basement of their town house, and there was no natural light.
“This . . . whatever it is you’re doing,” Linda said, already sounding bored with the conversation. “We can’t just keep shifting you from place to place, Jason. You need some grounding; you need roots. You need a track record, a history in one place, so you can go somewhere decent.” She was referring to college, of course, though college was so far off Jason’s radar that she may as well have been talking about Mars.
Jason nodded, said, “I know, I know,” and that was it. Linda returned to whatever work she was doing, and Jason dragged himself up to his third-floor bedroom to go to sleep.
Mostly Jason’s parents seemed annoyed that they had to find him another school on such short notice. Alexa’s school was out of the question, because it was all girls. And even if Jason had been a girl, his grades were shit, so he never would have gotten in. So, the family settled on Neiman Prep, a small school in a quiet part of downtown that was known to be a dumping ground for rich burnouts, problem kids who had to bang around somewhere until they graduated and exploited legacies to go to universities they had no reason being at. If Theo and Linda were concerned or embarrassed about this downshift in Jason’s education, they didn’t let on, and Jason didn’t much care. By that fall, he’d grown sick of Chance and Ainsley and preferred to hole up in his room, taking pills, an Adderall or a Xanax, sometimes, ones he bought from a public school kid, meeting him in the Fens about once a week.
There was something sexy about meeting a guy in the Fens, a known gay cruising and hookup spot between Fenway Park and the MFA, but Jason never dared try anything with the amateur dealer, whose name was Sean and who had the ratty, malnourished look of many a Dorchester or Charlestown boy. (He wore it well, though.) In fact, Jason didn’t try anything with anyone. Potent and horny-making as getting wasted could be, it also effectively removed him from normal socializing. If he wasn’t doing it alone, whoever Jason got fuzzy and fucked-up with—a few kids from Neiman, occasionally one or two of his less square, less preppy childhood friends—they all blended into the same amorphous blob, names and faces smeared together in the haze of the night.
Things continued on like that for all of Jason’s junior year, his grades improving a little, but only because Neiman basically gave you a B just for showing up. Then, in May, the announcement of the Wellfleet plan. This dreadful moment at the dining room table.
“When do we leave?” Jason asked.
“June!” Theo said brightly. “Early June. Soon as you kids are done with exams.”
I’m already done with exams, Jason thought, laughing a little to himself.
“There’s a smile,” Theo said happily. “See? We’re going to love it.”
Linda bobbed her head in agreement. “It’s going to be a wonderful summer.”
Not convinced of the plan’s wonderfulness, Jason had a freak-out. He texted Sean and asked how big an order he could place before he left, but Sean replied tapped out sorry and then wanna meet anyway tho? :) and Jason panicked and never wrote back. Jason certainly didn’t know any of the townie dealers on the Cape, and so he was potentially faced with a summer without any of the downers that mellowed him out and put him to bed. It would likely just be weed and alcohol, which didn’t seem like enough.
But as much as Jason was freaking out, he was, he slowly came to realize as May drew to a close, also a little relieved to be leaving Boston for a whole summer, to get away from the vacant, bottomed-out Neiman kids, to maybe reconnect with Brandon and Connor and some of his other old friends who’d drifted off into healthier, more productive lives. They were boring but safe, relatively wholesome. If nothing else, they were easier to pretend with. (Over the year, Jason had a couple of too-close-for-comfort moments with an out Neiman boy named Seth, a troubled, artsy kid from Brookline. There’d been some near-misses at parties, Seth touching Jason’s arm or brushing past him in a hallway, lingering as they pressed by each other, Jason running from the electric pull of it.) He and Brandon and Connor and maybe Fitz, if he was around, would get drunk, steal the golf cart from the club, hang out at the beach. Simple stuff. There were worse ways to spend a summer. Jason at least knew that.
And so in June they went, the Elsings, packing up the new Volvo and the old Saab, Theo letting Jason drive once they got off 495, the cool, blue early June wind blowing in the windows, the deep, satisfying greens of a Massachusetts summer welcoming them as they wended up the thin arm of the Cape. As they approached the house, gravel crunching under the tires, Jason felt a sudden jolt of excitement, maybe even hope. It seemed, that early evening, the sky behind the house purple and dreamy and big, like maybe something was about to change.
“What the hell, Jason?” Alexa planted herself in the center of the ER entrance, her eyes red from crying, her chin trembling.
“Sorry, sorry, I just had to get some air.”
“You’ve been gone for twenty minutes. I didn’t know where you were. I mean, don’t you care what’s happening right now? Do you even know what’s happening right now?”
“I—no. I mean, yes, I do. They said the first people from the accident are going to be here soon and that we just have to wait. Someone will tell us if they, if Mom and Dad, are brought in. But there’s, like, a million other people waiting in there. I don’t know how they’re going to find us.”
“Mom and Dad?”
“No, the lady, the hospital lady who will tell us if they’re here.”
“Oh. Well. I mean . . . we’ll just . . . be there, right? So she’ll find us.”
“It would really help if we’re both in there, just in case.”
Jason took her meaning. “O.K. I won’t leave again, I promise.”
They walked toward the waiting room, which was full of harried, frenzied people, most of them crowded around the reception desk, pleading with a tired-looking nurse or secretary or someone, who threw up her hands and said, “I can only help one person at a time. Please let me do that.”
“Are they all waiting on people from the bridge?” Jason asked, knowing it was a dumb question as soon as he asked it, but finding it hard to comprehend how all these people—there had to be fifty of them, maybe more—knew someone who’d happened to be crossing the Tobin Bridge, in the middle of the day on a Monday, at the exact moment of the collapse.
Alexa nodded, and then seemed to get annoyed. “It’s really bad, Jason. Like, really bad. I don’t know if . . . They said a lot of people drowned.”
Jason rolled his eyes. There it was. Haughtiness. “No one on Twitter knows what they’re talking about. Remember the Marathon? They were saying, like, a hundred people had died at first, and it was really like two.”
“It was three.”
“Whatever. It wasn’t a hundred. It can’t be that bad. People were in cars. This is just . . . People are just panicking.”
“Aren’t you panicking? Are you even worried about them?”
“Of course I am, Alexa. I just . . . We don’t know anything, do we? So let’s just assume everything’s O.K. Because it probably is.”
Alexa stared at him in disbelief and, then, disgust. “Are you high right now?”
“Are you high?”
Jason ground his teeth, looked down at the floor. He wasn’t. He hadn’t taken anything that day, he was pretty sure. But he still felt high. Maybe from the night before. Which scared him, and made him feel like a loser. Haughtiness, gone. “No. I’m not high, Alexa.”
“Because ‘let’s just assume everything’s O.K.’ when there’s been a huge accident involving our parents and we have no idea what’s going on sounds like high talk to me.”
“Jesus, Alexa, I’m not high. But I am sick of you bitching at me. I’m here. I’m staying. I’m sorry I went outside. I’ll find the lady and ask her if she knows anything, O.K.? What does she look like?”
“She’s got blond hair.”
“That’s really helpful, Alexa, thanks.”
Alexa looked like she’d been slapped. “Fuck you, Jason. Honestly, fuck you.” She turned from him and stalked off into the crowd of people, disappearing around a corner by some chairs. Jason stood there, feeling dumb, his face hot from something like shame. His hand itched for his phone.
He wanted to hear his voice again. He wanted his voice to take him back, to last summer, to all that possibility. When his parents, his imperfect but good parents, were intact, accounted for. When he was just a seventeen-year-old fuckup, not whatever he was now. An orphan, maybe. Whose sister hated him. He knew that all he had to do was talk to Alexa, to tell her why things had been so tense and sad between them for the past year, why he’d gone down another rabbit hole after a short summer when things had cleared up, when he was bright and alert again. But he couldn’t find the words. Not then, not ever.
Not since Labor Day a year ago. Jason closed his eyes and thought of the boy in the voice mail. The boy who loved him, and had first said so while calling from a party in Provincetown late one summer night. In the magical, lost time before everything in the world seemed to crumble and fall apart.